A Very (Un)Hairy Situation: Losing Hair After Chemo

Losing Hair After Chemo

Because I seem to be the poster child for chemo side effects (i.e., ALL of them), it didn’t come as a complete shock to me that hair loss was next on the list. The second (or maybe the third or fourth) shoe has dropped…

For the past 3+ years, I have worn my hair short.  Really short.  I used to have long, long hair (all one length past my shoulders). However, between blow-outs, straightening treatments, updo’s, and split ends, maintaining it became annoying. What put me over the edge was the seemingly constant line: “I can’t get in the pool and play (even though I really want to) because we have an event tonight and I can’t mess up my hair”.  Enough was enough.  Way, way too much maintenance. All done.

So, I went with a short pixie cut.  Took me about two weeks to commit to a look and to go to the salon.  The stylist who cut my hair was so excited to cut it short.  She even came in on a Sunday morning (= empty salon) to do it.  She was so worried that I would change my mind that she took the scissors (big ones!) and cut a chunk of hair right by my ear.  Translation:  no going back!

Fast forward to FBC.

Being bald-bald-bald was, I knew, inevitable. Hair loss occurs because chemotherapy targets all rapidly dividing cells—healthy cells as well as cancer cells. I’ve already told you about the attack on the healthy cells in my mouth on my Mouth Mishegoss post.

Next up: HAIR (or the loss of). Hair follicles are the structures in the skin filled with tiny blood vessels that make hair. They are some of the fastest-growing cells in the body. When not in cancer treatment,  hair follicles divide every 23 to 72 hours. But as the chemo does its work against cancer cells, it also destroys hair cells. Within a few weeks of starting chemo (in my case 2 weeks), a person may lose some or all of  the hair (www.breastcancer.org).

There really is no known, proven prevention for hair loss due to chemotherapy. Attempts have been made (and continue to be made) to reduce hair loss by using tight bands or ice caps.   These techniques were thought to reduce the blood flow to the hair follicles, thus limiting the chemotherapy exposure.  Unfortunately, these techniques did little more than cause headaches and have been abandoned in most settings. This fall there was a lot of publicity around a new type of ice cap (featured on Good Morning America).  I didn’t entertain the thought because I didn’t feel like the potential ROI was high enough for me.  So, I reconciled myself with the fact that I would, indeed, lose my hair. Fine.  Just one more aspect of FBC.

For the past two days, my head has been prickly and itchy which, I assumed, were the precursors to hair loss (BINGO!).  The best way to describe the feeling is as if I had worn hat on all day, from morning until night. When I took said hat off, my head would need a really good rub to get rid of the prickles and itches. You know that feeling?

In addition to the prickles and itches, I had clumps of hair coming out in my hand. Clumps.  Big clumps with absolutely no pattern whatsoever. Not so cute and quite freakish.

This is from running my hands gently through my hair. Ewwww.

My good friend, Marisa Weiss (founder of breastcancer.org) said:

There are studies that show that for many women, losing their hair is worse than losing a breast. That’s because you can conceal the loss of a breast, but hair loss is so obvious and apparent.

I don’t know if this is the case with me, but I do know that hair loss is a big F-bomb.

So, with this unsolicited outpouring of hair follicles, I knew it was time to shave my head.

Why would I choose to save my head?   For the following reasons:

  1. To give me a sense of control. FBC is causing this, but I can do something about it.
  2. To get rid of the prickles and itches.
  3. Rather than wait for the patchy fallout, I wanted to not only be proactive, but share the experience with girlfriends. I knew that being with girlfriends would mean a lot of laughter (better than the alternative) and dropping a lot of F-bombs together.

I have to admit that, despite my planning and sense of control, I was surprisingly nervous about it.

However, an amazing girlfriend lovingly planned the entire event. Using the word “event” may sound a little dramatic.  Well, it is F-Bomb dramatic to shave your F-Bomb head (thanks to F-bomb chemotherapy).  Anyway, she asked the owner of a local barber shop (whom I had never met) if he would stay open late for me and shave my head in a private atmosphere.  Ahhhhhh, what a gift.

My girlfriend planned everything, but I did have one rule for the evening:  no crying.  I wanted to focus on the absurdity of the entire situation and find Silver Linings in the form of humor (and anything else that popped up) while doing the deed.

We went to Montecito Barbers (in Montecito, obviously).  It is a real, old-fashioned Barber Shop replete with a Barber Shop Pole.

Montecito Barbers has the best story. It was opened in 1966 by Bob Sanchez. Matt Sanchez, Bob’s son, is the current owner (and was my Barber). His father, Bob Sanchez, still wields the scissors on a regular basis.  The Sanchez’s have been barbers for six generations.  Their history is absolutely enchanting.

All in the family: Matt Sanchez (seated) and (standing from left) Jess Martinez, Tim Sanchez, and Richie Ramirez

Montecito Barbers has super chic vintage-esque barber chairs that made me feel at completely at ease (I do love anything and everything vintage!).

Swank Barber Chairs

Matt is the coolest, and I do mean COOLEST man.  He amazingly kind, gentle, thoughtful and sensitive….AND he has a fabulous sense of humor!

Added bonus: he’s done a Chemo Coiffure before, which was incredibly comforting.

One of the first things he told me was that he had sterilized all of his equipment so that I need not worry about any problems or infections. How thoughtful and sensitive (and smart!) was that?

Before he actually started, I asked him if he would give me a mohawk because I have secretly always wanted to see myself in a mohawk.  Why? Heaven only knows.  Perhaps to add a little humor.  Or maybe it’s because I spent my adolescence in the middle of Indiana during the 80’s when seemingly everyone (including boyfriend 1, 2 and 3) had a mohawk.

Matt just chuckled and said, “Sure, whatever you want.”  To mohawk-ville I went. Buzzzzzzzz.

The Mohawk made us all laugh!

As he was buzzing, Matt told me about the non-profit that he founded in Santa Barbara “All For One; Youth and Mentoring” (http://www.migente.netfirms.com/awhoweareSML.htm). All For One fosters and proliferates the reduction of gang violence throughout Santa Barbara County through mentor training, youth community awareness, youth advocacy and access to alternative social and educational activities  Their goal is to let gang members see the end of the road before they hit the end of the road. Matt tries to help them make it through a time in their life when everything is changing, so they don’t end up dead or incarcerated. How amazing is this?

Talking with him, as I was getting Buzz’d was a huge, huge Silver Lining (SL): I felt incredibly safe with him, knowing that he contributes so much goodness the world.  How could I, in his hands, be anything but safe, physically and psychologically?

So, for all of those people who have pejorative views of the world, here is a wonderful man, leading an incredibly dignified, philanthropic and honorable life.  These are the people whom we need to celebrate.  Everyday.

I’m smiling in the photo below because I was relieved.  I made it.  I did it.  Another hurdle.  As is the case with everything in life, anticipation is far worse than the reality.  I have a bald head.  It’s as simple as that.

Additionally, seconds before the photo was taken, Matt said, “I don’t know why you’re going to wear a wig.  You look great without one.” Now, I don’t know if he was teasing or not (my guess is that he would not joke about something as serious as this), but his comment sure did make me smile.

All done! I made it!

Now, I’m not quite feeling like “Bald is Beautiful” (on me) and I would much prefer to have my own hair.

However, I did leave Montecito Barbers feeling that “Bald Ain’t so Bad”.  There are a lot of beautiful women in the world with shaved heads (SL) who are very inspiring…to me, the newly-minted bald girl:

Amber Rose

Supermodel Persis Khambatta

Persis Khambatta, former Miss India

Sinead O’Connor

Actually there are many more SL’s here:

  1. Friendship. I am forever grateful to my girlfriends who went with me and supported me and laughed with me.
  2. Montecito Barbers and Matt Sanchez.
  3. Learning about All For One.
  4. Humor. Humor. Humor. (It sure beats the alternative!)
  5. Hermes (cotton) Scarves!
  6. No waxing, shaving or plucking.
  7. Respite from washing, blowing and styling hair (time savings:  5 minutes).
  8. Having my head shaved gave me an APPETITE, which makes The Husband and my Oncologist very happy.
  9. A great wig.
  10. Seamus MacManus’ Quote:  “Better a Bald Head than No Head at All!”

Wishing you all a very happy, hairy, Silver-Lined Day.

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Comments

  1. Hieu Ho says

    Thank you for your story. .i had just finished my second chemotherapy treatment today. My hair just started falling out by the hand full two days ago. Im going to have my husband buzz it off for me in a couple of days. Lol.. I was kinda sad and feel a bit weird about to be bald..but I try to laugh at it and keep it light hearted. Not so sure how I would really feel once it actually take place. .but your story made me feel more confident in going bald. Now the hard part is trying to find a wig. Should I go for high quality synthetic or real human hair?

  2. Angie says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! You are such an inspiration!! What humor and grace you have about this whole thing! So glad you shared your experience about saying good-bye to your hair! I am beginning my chemo for Hodgkin’s next Friday and I am still coming to terms with the fact that I will lose my hair. I have literally cried for an hour in the shower over losing my hair. It seems so petty compared to all the things I should be worrying about! You have given me some light to a dark situation and something I am dreading. But it seems that if you approach it with the right attitude and mix in a little humor, it sure makes it easier to deal with.
    P.S.-Love the Seamus MacManus quote at the end!

  3. Mary Beth says

    Love this story of putting a nasty side effect of FBC into its proper place, love the story of good people doing good work in places you would not think to look, love the story of girlfriends rallying in support, but especially LOVE the "Hollye smiles" in these photos.
    xoxo MB

  4. stephanie and chuck says

    We love reading your blog and love your courageous and positive attitude
    Chuck and I know Matt and have always had a great deal of respect and admiration for him and the work he does in the community
    We think of u often. Love to u and your family

  5. Nan and Hilary Jacob says

    Wow, what you did is so cool….you ARE in control! You can rock any hair style beautifully, and what you did IS a style because YOU did it!

  6. diane says

    I TOLD you you could rock a bald head!!! You have to post the mohawk…come on!
    I loved seeing your smile, I've missed that!
    Keep on truckin, you're doing it with more grace than anyone could imagine!
    xoxo

  7. says

    Hollye
    You are THE most beautiful woman I know! I am quite certain that you are rocking the heck out of this new "do"! Check out Saturday Night Live hair restoration video on u tube. 2 minutes of chuckles. Xo whit

  8. Daryl Stegall says

    With a smile as bright and gorgeous as yours, who needs hair??? I would love to have seen the mohawk though :)
    XOX
    Daryl

  9. Theresa Edwards - So says

    H, it WILL grow back … I am not to sure of your regieme … but I am 4 reds down and now on taxol … 12 x every week …. had my first today .. long story but at 11.01 pm … I am alive …. no side effects … and still have insomnia … the premeds adminstered at 11pm last night and 4.30 am this morning helped .. plus the injection on Taxol day … slept the 90km journey home … SIL .. the oncologist says this is where it grows back …. my shavanthon is documented on FB .. if you would like to see … and have been wearing funky "doeks" (thats scraves in your languange) for the past months … even bear it bald every now and again .. depending on the company … if you have radium it loves hair growth as well ao it will really grow … not a SIL .. it will either be grey or curley … but thats what hair dye is for … another SIL …

    Love reading your updates … yes we live the same life …

    T

  10. Amy says

    You'll be glad to know the Hoosier men have moved on from a mohawk from your youth to the 21st century — a mullet – business in the front; party in the back. I'd love to see your mohawk pic.

  11. Jody Soosman says

    Hol-
    Hair or no hair, you are beautiful inside and out!!!!!How liberated you must feel!!!!!!!
    Love,
    Jody and the boys

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