The end of 2017 marked a significant change for me, no longer wearing a wig or having hair extensions, which had been a huge part of my life for the past two and a half years. Hair loss is daunting, heartbreaking and isolating, so I thought I would write a short post that might be useful for those who are currently experience hair loss due to cancer treatment, and are perhaps thinking about wearing a wig. I documented my personal experience with a couple of blog posts, Hair Envy and Letting My Hair Down.
Although I’m so pleased to have my own hair back, the thought I could loose it again with future treatment is never too far from my mind. I started to loose my hair towards the end of 2015 when I first starting taking Vemurafenib, and wore a wig on an almost daily basis for over two years. Due to a change in treatment, last summer my hair had finally grown enough for me to start wearing hair extensions, and I got rid of the wig all together. Sadly I didn’t manage to get rid of the wig before I turned 30, which was my original goal, but so far this year I’m be sporting my own long, curly hair, which is the best gift I could have asked for.
I had my extensions removed late last year before starting a new job. Fortunately a change in treatment has meant my hair is no longer affected by the cancer blasting drugs and my own hair has returned to its natural state. It looks the same as it did before it started thinning and falling out.
As a female loosing my hair was one of the worst things that could have happened alongside my treatment, because it made me feel so ugly. When I looked in the mirror I saw someone who wasn’t really me anymore, but a cancer patient. Nothing screams I have cancer more than having no hair and eyebrows. When this happened It hit me just how serious my situation was. Now I have my own hair again I feel much more confident, althought the seriousness of the situation will never go away.
I’d read about how most patients loose their hair during treatment, and that when it does come back, it can come back a different colour, or a different texture. I’m lucky that mine has returned to how it was before my hair loss started.
When my hair loss first started I began to use gentle hair products and non-medicated shampoos, conditioners, and body washes, so without parabens. My scalp and skin became very sensitive so I steered clear of my usual go to products. When washing my hair I used gentle strokes and patting motions to clean my hair rather than scrubbing as I would have done previously. I used various products from Aveeno, Timotei (thanks poundland) and Sanex and also cut down the amount I washed my hair, having previously washed it every other day. I have since read that leaving a longer time between washes doesn’t prevent hair loss, but the less time I spent starring at clumps of hair in the bath plug hole the better. My scalp still feels fairly sensitive now I am taking an immunotherapy drug, so I still use the similar products on a daily basis.
I stopped using a hairdryer to dry my hair, instead using a towel, and made sure to rub it very gently. I found it was best to avoid too much heat from hairdryers or hair straighteners, so started going for a more natural look. This goes against everything my Nan said when I was younger, she’d always say leaving hair wet would mean I would catch a cold!
Once I began wearing a wig it became important for it to look as normal and natural as possible. I got two wigs on the NHS via Macmillan Cancer Support, althought I only ever ended up wearing one. It got to a point where it was my new normal, It was only when I took my wig off when I got home in the evening when it really hit me. I would go past a mirror and catch a glimpse of myself and suddenly remember that I was extreamly unwell, and that the drugs I have been taking to keep me alive and try to make me feel better were actually poisoning my body so much that I lost my hair, eyebrows and most of my body hair. I was filled with an overwhelming sadness and I still feel emotional thinking about it.
I knew people would notice when I started wearing a wig, as the style and colour were very different to my natural locks, so getting it cut and shaped by a professional hairdresser was really important, It made me feel more comfortable, as it looked more natural and felt less heavy on my head.
I used a hair brush from Denman specifically desgined for people with wigs or hair extensions, and washed the wig every few weeks in luke warm water using gentle baby shampoo, I was pretty shocked at how much dirt came out!
The best tip I was given was to use a clothes steamer to straighten my wig, it soounds bizarre, but it worked wonders on my wig after weeks of excessive brushing, which sometimes left the ends looking dry and brittle. I bought one from Amazon which worked wonders and helped to give my hair the glossy newly washed look.
I had hair extensions for about six months before it had grown long enough for me to feel happy and confident going back to my roots. It was very expensive, but I justified the cost by thinking about how much money I’d saved from not going to the hairdressers for a cut and blow dry for over two years! I’d reccommend to anyone if they want to speed up the hair growing process. I got too impatient and wanted to feel like I fitted in with everyone else.
I am due a PET CT scan in the next few weeks, which I’m already very anxious about. I’m hoping that pembrolizumab keeps me stable for the foreseeable future, as well as the obvious it would also mean I can continue to enjoy having my own hair again. I always used to want straight hair as a teenager, but nowadays I’m not fussy, I guess it’s one of those things you might not truly appreciate until it’s gone!