Hats for hair loss

To shave or not to shave?

You’ve survived some major shocks: the diagnosis, telling your family, loads of scans and possibly surgery. Now the doctors are going on about chemotherapy. Your oncologist is showing you charts and piling on the statistics, discussing timetables and drugs to reduce the side effects. It’s a lot of information to take in from a standing start of no knowledge whatsoever. When it all happened to me I knew nothing about chemotherapy - except this: it makes you go bald.

Everyone knows that.

What I didn’t know is that for most women, losing their hair is the single most distressing aspect of the whole chemo experience. I felt horrified and bereft at the prospect of my hair falling out. Back B.C. (before cancer) I had a long, thick mane of glossy auburn. My hair was my crowning glory, so much a part of me. Losing it was losing a piece of my identity. The day that my hair came out in my hands I cried and cried. I felt so powerless in the situation. When I got so upset about it I assumed that I was just a thoroughly vain and shallow person. With the benefit of calm, logical hindsight, of course I’m not - and neither are you.

So now it is time to face the big question: to shave your head or not to shave your head?

In the end I didn't shave but if I knew then what I know now I think I probably would have insisted on it. I wanted to shave it, but I couldn't talk anybody into doing it for me. Not even my hairdresser. I think people are afraid that you will hold them responsible for the shock and trauma of seeing yourself bald for the first time.

And they've got a point. It does happen.

I let people talk me out of it again and again. But with hindsight I don't think that having my head shaved would have been half as traumatising as waking up with giant hairballs on my pillow or, subsequently, having half of my hair come out in my hands when I washed it. I ended up with that kind of fluff-head look - something like a baby from outer space!

But that is just my experience. Everyone is different.

I want to pass on to you the following brilliant strategy from Andrea, a Chemo Chic reader. Before being diagnosed with cancer, Andrea had bum length dreadlocks. She had grown them for eleven years. Everybody knew her as “Andrea with the dreads”. You can only imagine how much a part of Andrea’s identity those dreadlocks were. Faced with the prospect of having her hair ‘taken’ by chemo, Andrea decided on a preemptive strike. She organised a huge party and invited all her friends. The culmination of the event was Andrea having her head completely shaved. In the process she raised over £700 for Breast Cancer Care. Andrea writes that she did not shed a single tear as her hair was removed. If you decide not to shave your head then I would definitely suggest getting a soft, cotton, sleeping cap so that you don't shed loads of hair into your bed.

I also want to tell you that, a year on, I’m sitting here running my fingers through a fabulous thatch that's at least twenty centimetres long all over. That’s the great thing about hair – it will grow back.