Letting My Hair Down

It has been almost a year since I began taking iv drug Pembrolizumab to help keep my cancer at bay. When I first began systemic treatment back in 2014 my hair and eyebrows fell out and then my hair took on a new afro like texture. I documented this expereince last year in my blog posts Eyebrow Tattoos and Hair Envy.

Since I began Pembrolizumab exactly one year ago my hair has started to grow back slowly, this is because hair loss isn’t a side effect of this particular drug, but after having covered up for two years, next week marks my (hopefully) permanent departure from wig wearing. I am currently sporting an unruly short hair style somewhere between pixie crop and a graduated bob, but I decided to take the plunge and am due to have hair extensions fitted next week. The texture, colour and thickness have all come back,  I just need to add to the length. I have a short hairstyle once before after I had a crainitomy to remove a brain tumour in 2010, it did suit me, but I really miss my long hair. Wearing a wig for hours on end, particularly in the summer months can get really uncomfortable, so I am really excited about the freedom hair extensions will give me. I can’t wait to wake up and not have to think about my hair.

The heartache of loosing my hair is something I wasn’t prepared for, or even something I will get over anytime soon. Having to wear a wig has become part of my daily routine however, it also completely striped me of my confidence, despite being my new normal. Although growth has made it easier over time, I still wear a wig in public most of the time and would never consider going to work without covering my head. As a female loosing my hair was one of the worst  things that could have happened, because it made me feel the exact opposite, unfemale. When I looked in the mirror I saw someone who wasn’t really me anymore, but a cancer patient. It has made me stand out (not in a good way!) and feel ugly.

I know that getting hair extensions doesn’t mean I am suddenly going become self assured and confident about my appearance, there are no photographs of my bald head or short chemo affected hair in existence, which I think speaks volumes about my feelings on the matter. Most of my friends know I used to love taking photos when out and about, but this experience mean my outlook has changed. Paying a visit to the hairdressers marks another key step forward for me in dealing with my diagnosis, and perhaps over time I will be letting my hair down once again and not worry about what others think.

Sometimes it feels as though people think that because I am facing cancer that for some reason I no longer care about seemingly small or trivial things like what they think about the way I look. If anything it has made me more anxious, angry and upset.

I’m sure there are some women who would be comfortable and confident with having a bald head, however I am guessing there is a tiny minority who would be ok with hair loss from cancer treatment. I know I am not one of them. The past two years have been a mental and emotional journey, I tried to rock a shaved head and a variety of headscarfs but my locks were part of me, so losing them was a horrid experience. Yes, It is a small price to pay for life extending treatment, that goes without saying, but it doesn’t mean I should be happy about it!

Oddly, I am now feeling anxious about ditching the wig altogether. People may wrongly assume that treatment has come to an end and I am cancer free, but as it stands I am continuing having Immunotherapy every three weeks. I am now a stage 4 patient with hair, which is better than not having any, so onwards and upwards in a way.  I’m sure I will get used to it in a few weeks. I know there is every chance my hair might fall out again in the future, so if it does happen then hopefully I’ll feel more prepared.

I’m looking forward sporting a new shorter summer hair style and eventually feeling more like my old self. It’s a lot of money but hopefully it’ll be worth it. 

 

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…