Let me set the mood… I was sitting in a chair at the radiologist oncologist’s office and he was rattling off a list of potential side effects of the radiation.
“You will experience fatigue, hair loss that may be permanent, you may lose some hearing, the skin on your forehead will look like a horrible sunburn and may blister, you could have pituitary problems later, short term memory loss, damage to healthy brain tissue, some loss of brain function...”
I jumped in,
“P-E-R-M-A-N-E-N-T HAIR LOSS??
Surely there’s something I could do about it.. I could get hair implants, right? How much hair are we talking about? How long will it take to grow? Wait, it WILL grow, right? Is the permanent hair loss just a worst case scenario, or is it a sure thing? When will I know if mine will grow back? And what about the hair implants?? Do implants work on radiated skin? Rogaine?”
The doctor glanced up with sympathetic eyes and explained that my hair would hopefully start growing back within a year and I should wait until then to make any decisions. I’ve said it before – I’m not a wait and see kind of person. But I am an I’d rather ignore a huge scary problem and hope it goes away kind of person. So, I decided to be naïve and believe that I couldn’t possibly be one of those people who lost their hair. MY beautiful, thick auburn locks couldn’t just fall out – I’ll will them not to. And that plan worked for a bit.
Then it happened. Exactly three weeks into radiation, clumps of hair started falling out, including my eyebrow! If I even touched my hair, strands would just fall to the ground. And I didn’t just lose my hair in the area of the radiation.. I experienced hair loss all throughout my entire head. I later learned the generalized, all over hair loss is called shock loss — your hair goes into shock because of some kind of trauma and it Just. Falls. Out.
Surgery is considered an invasive process, which can put your body — and your mind — under a lot of stress leading to shock loss. According to the American Skin Association, hair loss after a major stressful event, like a craniotomy for instance, is most likely to occur within 3 to 6 months after the stressor. Your body needs certain nutrients for hair growth, and a stressful event, like surgery, may cause your body to divert these nutrients away from your vital organs. This can lead to all over hair thinning. There is no particular treatment for this type of hair loss, and hair re-growth almost always occurs.
TRAUMATIC. DEVASTATING. UNFATHOMABLE.
I can’t possibly make someone who hasn’t experienced cancer hair loss understand the intense plethora of emotions you experience when your hair starts falling out. I think people mistakenly oversimplify it into a thing of vanity. But it's not that simple. It’s not that I felt like I was so pretty before, and now my hair loss made me less pretty – it’s not just a vanity thing. It's more like, you’re fighting to survive and the cancer just keeps taking parts of you away, one by one. Like, Ha! You thought you had 60 years left to live? Nope. You thought you could hold your grandbabies one day? Sorry.. You thought you could live an active life and not be in pain or hurting? Not you! Ohhh, and you poor thing, you thought you could still look like you?? Not that either. It's crippling to be robbed of so much of who you are so quickly.
I cried a lot over my hair – more than once a day. I had never felt as hopeless and out of control as I felt when my hair fell to the ground. Nevertheless, I decided that I was going to take care of the hair I had left to the best of my ability. Control the things we can control, right? After a very strict year of hair care, my eyebrow grew back and my hair experienced significant growth. And now as I approach two years since radiation, my hair has almost fully regrown. Unless I flip my hair over to one side and literally point it out, no one can tell I ever lost any hair.
So, you see, it’s not hopeless, and I’m sharing these raw, unfiltered and private photos of my progress to prove it. I also share them to give hope to others who, like me, are clinging to some hope that their precious hair will grow back. I don’t have magic locks or some fancy tricks up my sleeve. I just took really good care of my hair and I’m sharing all my tips HERE so you can do the same.