What It’s Like to Lose Your Hair

Spoiler: The anticipation is worse than the event itself.

Let’s start at the beginning: This picture was an above average hair day when I still had hair.

I’ve never been motivated nor skilled at styling my hair. Pictures of me dating back 25 years will show straight blond hair in various lengths from chin to shoulder.

I had a look.

Not saying it was a particularly good look, it was just the least-common-denominator style that got me through.

In retrospect, I should have mixed it up a lot more when I had the chance.

I had an elaborate plan after my first chemotherapy treatment. I would go to my long-time stylist and have her cut my hair into a chic short cut, then return a second time for an extremely close crop once the hair loss started in earnest. She was also going to help me find and style a wig.

Sidenote: Did you know a wig may be covered by insurance? Yes, you can obtain a prescription for a head prosthesis. Given that wigs range wildly in cost – ones with real hair can be over a thousand dollars – a prescription would come in handy.

While chemotherapy protocols vary, the side effects of mine (which I’d read, oh, at least a million times) indicated that hair loss would occur 12-14 days after the first dose.

And then, with one global pandemic, my careful plans fell apart.

Eight days after my first treatment, I started to notice some hair loss at my temples.

I decided to take step one and cut my hair myself.

I sectioned my hair into ponytails for easier cutting and put on lipstick for courage.

The end result was not perfect. This is likely my first and last foray into home barbering.

^^^ I measured, and this was also nearly three years of estimated growth.

This is what it mostly looked like during the week I had that cut.

This picture is also the last day I had hair.

Here’s the timeline:

  • Eight days after chemo: Self-Administered short cut
  • Twelve days after chemo: Hair loss started in earnest. Tugging at a small clump of hair was enough to pull some, but not all, out.
  • Also day twelve: I ordered a wig online. This was neither the planned nor recommended procedure, but the Coronavirus pandemic meant that my stylist’s advice and the local wig stores were not available. Furthermore, I did not get to use my head prosthesis prescription and had to pay out of pocket (~$300).
  • Days 13-17 after chemo: I joked that I was like a dandelion in the wind. The slightest brush or pull would result in a large clump of hair coming out. Zoom calls with patients, staff, friends and everyone else were starting in earnest and I was really concerned because my wig had not arrived, and I was quickly running out of options. I stopped brushing and washing my hair. To do so would have resulted in tremendous loss at once.
  • Evening, Day 17: I couldn’t go on like this any longer, wig or not. My dirty short hair was becoming matted and the loss just escalated. When the hair came out, the roots looked totally desiccated, like hair that had been burned. I didn’t torture myself with this activity, but I wager that I could have pulled out half or more of what was on my head with little effort. I asked my husband to use his old sideburn trimming clippers to shave my head.

When the time finally came to get my head shaved, it was more functional and less emotional than I thought it would be. I’d already pre-mourned my hair loss so much in the previous weeks and months that the act felt like a relief. Finally.

A few surprising pieces of information emerged: the first was that while my natural hair color – which I have not seen in a long, long time – was a boring dishwater blond, it was much less gray than I thought it would be. The second is that a bristly head is extremely itchy.

Fortuitously, my wig arrived the evening that I shaved my head. This felt like Divine intervention, the universe giving me a tiny bit back.

My daughter told me that my wig looked like American Girl Doll hair. She is 100% correct.

I don’t enjoy wearing my wig. Most of the time it rests in my closet on an improvised stand, a Nambe vase that I got as a wedding gift.

You can also see in the above picture that I have sorted out piles and piles of scarves to wear on my head. I have watched a lot of YouTube videos on how to style a head scarf.

As of this writing, I’ve been (mostly) bald for about two weeks. I also completed my second chemotherapy session (#2 of 4) during this interval, so in theory, I am halfway done with active treatment.

Internally, I generally feel the same. While I have had some side effects to the chemo, I am grateful that overall I have been doing very well.

Yet.

There are moments where I catch my reflection and gasp. Who is this?

My eyebrows and eyelashes are also getting into the Falling Out game, which just adds to the overall look.

I feel like a nude mouse:

Albeit one with lipstick.