Side Effects – Hair Loss


This is about the first thing most people ask about.  That doesn’t surprise me.  Despite its prevalence, cancer has overwhelming stigmas (all fear-based, I suspect) including the visual impact.  It’s a telltale sign to the rest of the world that you have one of the most dreaded of all dreaded “lurgies”.  No longer can you hide it to yourself but you must face the world’s judgements too.  See?  Fear-based.  Of course, it’s how you deal with it but there’s the process of getting to that other side.

It started in hospital for me as a side effect of large amounts of anaesthetic so it was gradual.  By the time I started chemo 3 months on, I’d lost perhaps a quarter of my locks.  I’d gone through this in high school but it was no less of a shock to relive.

Identity theft

As much as anyone – whether you love, hate, or are apparently indifferent to your hair, for me it’s part of my identity.  So difficult was the mental severing of the attachment to my mane.  Realising the change was rudely involuntary, it felt like theft – an invasion of my being.

The evidence

It ain’t pretty but it’s real.  Here’re some pics of how I looked at my worst and the morning shock evidence of how much hair I was losing in a wash.  The puffy face is drug-induced.

Chemo hair loss 1 Chemo hair loss 2 Chemo hair loss 3

My eyebrows thinned out to almost nothing; I made good work of drawing and shading them in daily!  My eyelashes fell out too.  At their thinnest, I could count them individually which should be near impossible to do.  Try it.

Chemo eyelash & eyebrow

New temporary identity

I wanted to be as authentic as possible and not hide behind a natural-looking wig so I chose to wear scarves instead.  At first they slipped and itched but as my hair fell out, there was more fabric to play with and getting ready in the morning was quick.  Here’s how I tied mine on without resembling a housemaid too much!

head scarf 2 head scarf 1

Why didn’t I do this sooner?!

By the time I’d been put on to second-line treatment (because the first-line became ineffective), I noticed it wasn’t causing further hair loss.  Although it didn’t allow the original thickness to resume either, at least I had a something to start with!  When my hairdresser, Pierre, agreed to cut off what was left, I felt so much lighter and it had nothing to do with the hair.  It was all internal.  I’d let it go.  I’d said goodbye.  Thanks, Luba, for the photography and encouragement as I stood (sat) on the precipice!

hair cut 1hair cut 2

Lonely planet

Dealing with hair loss is not something that comes with a neat set of options, unfortunately.  It’s harsh to face and very much a matter of choice.  No one can decide for you whether a fedora or a scarf or a blue wig is best.  It’s a messy combination of internal and external factors.  I considered donning a pink wig until I didn’t find one easily but I wore bright scarves instead.  I was fortunate not to have lost all my hair although I don’t know how much difference it would’ve made.  I’ll never know.  Just as no one can never know until it happens.

A word of advice – stick to that with which you were born.  I looked washed out and sick in scarves that were white, grey or anywhere near skin tone but fine in dark colours like navy, black and bottle green.  I can pull off bright, strong colours in my clothing so these looked fine on my head too.


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