Facing The Chop

I’ve been lucky enough to have my own hair (minus a wig or extensions) for almost 9 months. I can’t get over how much it’s grown, it feels like the old me, circa 2008 is back again. Now I’m 10 years older but quite possibly not any wiser.

Since my regrowth I’ve wanted to let my hair grow and not touch it at all, and I’m faced with a huge anxiety about facing the chop. Why would I want to cut my hair when loosing it meant I had so little confidence? I spent countless nights crying myself to sleep and moaning to my friends about my lack of hair and subsequent ‘cancer patient’ hair styles that it seems like cutting it would feel like going backwards. I now have a full head of thick hair but the confidence is still hugely dented. It’s one of the many things around my illness which causes me anxiety.

When I initially started systemic treatment four years ago I was told to my relief I wasn’t going to loose my hair. After various changes in treatment I did end up loosing the majority of it, with what was left turning into a frizzy afro texture.

First I had to get used to the fact I was having treatment but didn’t look conventionally unwell, then I had to get used to obviously looking like a cancer patient. I finally did this and managed to embrace wearing a wig, after all I had straight, neat hair for once in my life so tried to see that as a bonus! I also lost all my eyebrow hair so got tattoos so I could feel ‘normal’. Then, with more hair changing I got extensions, which aren’t as easy to manage as one might think. Now I have to get used to the ‘old me’ making an appearance, only I’m not that person anymore, I’m a completely new one still undergoing treatment, however to a another person in the street I look 100% healthy. It looks much harder than it seems.

When my hair started to fall out I wasn’t mentally prepared, I didn’t expect it so I was really shocked. I thought it might just be a little bit, but when the bath plug hole was so blocked the water wouldn’t drain properly I knew I was in trouble. In one way I thought if I really believed my hair wouldn’t fall out then somehow it would all be ok. Given the original advice given I failed to buy a wig in advance in preparation.

During some of my worst times I used to dream about having long flowing hair again; and being able to tie it back. I’ll never take that for granted but now I have it I really don’t want to let go.

I now have more than enough hair to colour and cut into any style I want, but I can’t face it! My hair could do with a little refresh and a couple on inches off the bottom but it feels like too much too soon after my original trauma, it took so long to grow back after all.

At the moment, I feel ok that it’s a bit of a mess because it’s all my own hair, I’m never going to get a medal for best hair style, but I really don’t care. I know I’ll have to face getting it cut in the not too distant future, but I want to hold onto the growth; to this moment of success within my treatment journey, it’s a small win, but it’s a win all the same.

Has anyone else felt the same about hair cuts post chemo growth, or is it just me?! Perhaps in the future I’ll change drugs and it’ll fall out again, so I want it for as long as possible. I know it’s slightly illogically, completely irrational and silly of me, but having cancer does strange things sometimes!

Eyebrow Tattoos 

Last week I had my eyebrow tattoos topped up by Laura Kay. I decided to get my eyebrows tattooed last May after they completely fell out whilst I was taking Vemurafenib, an oral chemotherapy drug. Not only did my hair fall out and turn into an afro but my eyebrows disappeared too!

I’ve never really been a fan of tattoos and wouldn’t have considered any ordinary tattoo, but my facial baldness meant something had to be done.

Having my eyebrows done has made me feel so much more human and confident in my ‘new’ skin. Prior to the procedure I was drawing them in every day, which took me about 20 minutes and became more and more depressing as time went on. During my appointment I looked back at some photographs which were taken just before Laura performed the first procedure. It made me feel really sad to look back at these, I don’t think hair loss is anything a person can be truly prepared for. I’d recommend it to anyone going through something similar.

My eyebrows are semi-permanent so need to be topped up every 12 months or so to keep the colour and definition. Since changing drugs my own eyebrow hairs have also started growing back on top of the tattoos. They probably look better than they ever did before!

Laura did and wonderful job and my brows have now been restored to their former glory. My hair is also growing back thicker than before which is an amazing feeling. So far, the side effects for Pembrolizumab seem to be manageable. Of course, it helps that I know the drug is currently working.

The procedure was also filmed for a documentary I am participating in for the BBC about people living with cancer. More to follow in my next post…