I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the start of April, and I’m surprised that it’s taken me until the end of October to write about hair loss. It’s one of the first things you think of when you hear the words cancer and chemotherapy, right? But I didn’t want to write about it until I knew exactly how I was going to be affected. As I’ve mentioned a few times, I chose to use the cold cap to try to minimise hair loss. And although I didn’t like it at all, it certainly made a difference. I was told that, without it, I would definitely lose all of my hair on the type of chemo I was having. And with it? Well, no-one could predict with any certainty what would happen.
After my first chemo session, Mum and I went to a hairdresser that specialises in hair loss and wigs. I tried a couple on. I didn’t like them. But I pored over their brochure and chose three styles to order in and try on. We returned a week later and I chose my wig. It was a lot like my normal hair, but better (because I’m lazy and very rarely do anything with my own hair). We didn’t buy it, because they could get it in within three days, and I wanted to see what happened first. I might not need it.
I had one chemo, two, three, four, and my hair remained. I lost a little more than usual when I washed and brushed it, but nothing major. And then the loss stepped up a bit. I was finding hair on my pillow each morning, and a good handful would come out when I washed it. I started to wash it less frequently. Started wearing hats or scarves most of the time.
One night, lying in bed, I got a bit upset about it. ‘You know it’s not your hair that makes you beautiful, don’t you?’ Paul said. He’s good at saying the right thing, sometimes. I’ve never been beautiful, and the past few months, I’ve never felt further from it. But it’s nice to hold the hand of the man you love and hear that word when you’re feeling low.
At this point, I started feeling frustrated. I was hating the cold cap and my hair was falling out anyway. Not all of it, granted, but enough that it looked dreadful and I wanted to cover it up. I still didn’t order my wig, because I still had a full covering of (very thin) hair and I thought it would probably make me really hot to put a wig on top of it. I’m in an online support group for younger women with breast cancer, and every time someone posted a photo of their shaved head, I wondered whether I should have gone down that path.
I’ve never been very girly. Even before I had children, I rarely bothered to wear a lot of makeup or do much with my hair. Every so often, after a good haircut, I’d vow to make a bit more effort, but it never lasted. So I’ve never had amazing hair that I’m proud of. I’ve never felt emotionally attached. But, despite all that, it’s pretty upsetting to find strands of your hair all over your bed and your carpets and floating in your toilets. It’s upsetting to have a bad hair day every single day.
So last week, I asked my next-door neighbour, who’s a hairdresser, to cut it all off. She checked that I was ready, looked at a photo I’d found to make sure we both meant the same thing by ‘very short’. And then she did it. It didn’t take long, and I didn’t feel any sadness when I saw my hair all around me on the floor. If anything, I felt liberated. It didn’t look great, because it’s still very thin, but it looked good enough for me to go out without a hat for the first time in ages.
When Joseph saw me for the first time after the cut, he tilted his head to one side but didn’t say anything. ‘Do I look different?’ I asked. ‘You do, Mummy. Have you had your hair cut? Did you do it with scissors?’ I asked him whether he liked it, and he said, ‘No, but I do like it a little bit.’ That’s good enough for me.