Hair Loss After Chemotherapy: My Story
Written after an interview with Melissa Filiatrault,
When I was three years old, my identical twin sister convinced me to cut all of my hair off. As always, I listened to her and butchered my golden crown.
Until my hair grew back, it was easy to tell us apart — she had long gorgeous princess’ hair and I was stuck with a short pixie cut. She always had the hairstyle that I coveted. Little did I know, this foreshadowed what would become in the future.
My whole life, me and my sister did everything together. Growing up, we were joined at the hip- she was my leader, and I was her shadow.
We took the same college courses, taught at the same school, and wound up living a minute away from each other. She is my first phone call, for both good news and bad news.
She was there when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and was there for me every minute.
The news that changed my life.
Sitting in the doctor’s office, the doctor was relaying the treatment plan to me. In a daze, I was listening to the doctor gloss over the surgery procedure, when the next words hit me like a bag of bricks — I might lose my hair.
Even though I was receiving the critical news of a lifetime, those words were a barrier blocking out any other information.
I kept looping the conversation back to my hair in a frenzied panic, asking if there was anything I could do to ensure the preservation of my hair. My protective shield.
Refusing to believe that my hair would leave me behind, I decided to forego the concerns that it would fall off, and keep my fingers crossed that day would never come. Generally, a keeper of things until the last possible moment, I didn’t want to let go of that part of me.
To my dismay, as the chemo treatments ensued, I began to notice that my hair was thinning.
I dreaded the prospect of hair loss.
One day, my whole family was out on a trip, while I stayed home. Trying to keep as busy as possible so that my thoughts wouldn’t stray too far, I was sitting on my bed and tweezing my eyebrows. The moments where I was alone without my family were the moments I needed to keep my thoughts in check the most.
Having thick and difficult hair, I knew that the tall task of tweezing my eyebrows would keep me occupied. I looked at myself in the mirror and steeled myself for the yanking and plucking.
With no effort, the first hair slid out. The second hair came loose without any prompting. My heart sank to my pelvis. To my horror, my hair was coming out way too easily. The lightest brushes were making full clumps fall out.
The pain of knowing that it’s happening and that there is nothing to do about it wracked my whole body. In that moment, I felt many different emotions, even some that were contradictory. I wanted to curl up and have someone hold me, but at the same time, I wanted to run away and hide. I wanted to scream, and more than anything, I just wanted it to stop.
The knowledge that there was nothing I could do, shook me to my core. I knew that I was going to get sicker, and I was petrified.
True to form I called my sister, knowing full well that she wouldn’t tell me what I wanted to hear, but what I needed to hear. Through tears, I wailed and blubbered the news. She talked me off of a ledge and told me that I have bigger battles to face.
The rest of the day was a blur, I didn’t want to touch my hair in fear that it might fall out. I didn’t want to pull my hair back or wash it. As a person who always plays with her hair, I soon realized that the slightest caress would make strands come loose.
The more my hair started shedding, the more I became fixated on looking at it in the mirror. I would routinely wind up in front of the mirror assessing the damage. Waiting for my hair to fall out was nothing short of torturous.
What was once my security blanket, was now my prison.
The presence of my hair once made me feel radiant and confident, but now keeps me confined in shackles.
My protective shield — was forsaking me.
My hair was soon shedding everywhere. The hair sightings around my house soon became abundant in measure.
When I woke up in the morning there would be a matted mess of hair on my pillow. When I made coffee in the kitchen I would see clumps on the counter. On the way to work or treatments, I would see it on the seats of my car.
I couldn’t evade the hair, it was everywhere. Stuck in an avalanche of hair, I was feeling tired and sick on a regular basis. I remember going to shower and emerging from the bathroom with bald spots.
Even after having a mastectomy, I was more traumatized about losing my hair than I was about losing my breasts. I could hide my breasts under my clothing, but my hair was my security blanket. My breasts were forcefully taken away against my will, but my hair fell off and abandoned me.
Because my cancer was so aggressive and presided in both breasts, it was assumed there would be a genetic link with my identical twin sister. The past came full circle a year later — my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and went through surgery, but did not lose her hair.
She ended up donating her invincible hair to cancer patients.
I used two main tools to help me get through this trying period of my life — my family, and humor.
I was starting to see the beginnings of a rainbow after a long and heavy storm.
For every down in life, there is an inevitable up.
The first time I went to go try on wigs, the store had only old lady wigs. All of the wigs were too short, had an old-fashioned style, or were just plain ugly. I wanted long flowing hair — get that gray hair away from me!
I was thirty-eight years old and didn’t want a wig tailored for a sixty-five-year-old. I was so mad and upset that these were the only options.
Of course, you can buy beautiful wigs, but not without making a big dent in your wallet. More and more young women are getting breast cancer, and we have no use for granny wigs.
For one of many reasons, I was very fortunate to work at a special ed school. The kids, staff members, and the parents organized a cancer run to donate money for me to buy a wig.
Seeing three hundred kids and my co-workers all come together to raise money for me to buy a wig was one of the most beautiful and touching things that I have ever witnessed. The kids were all so proud of themselves that they could help me in such a meaningful way.
Using the money that was graciously donated, I ended up purchasing a custom made wig created with human hair from India. At long last, I felt normal again. The best part was that it didn’t look like a wig, it looked natural.
I felt beautiful again all thanks to these amazing kids and thought of them every single day that I wore it.
We are not defined by our hair. I still received the same amount of love and support from everyone after my body physically changed, even being astonished sometimes at the outward displays of appreciation.
I am the same person with or without my hair and breasts. Losing your hair can be devastating, but seeing more than one truth is imperative. Knocking yourself down will never get you anywhere.
I am still evolving from some of the lessons I learned from this journey. My breasts, face, and hair don’t define my beauty, but they do change how others sometimes see me.
All of the physical changes made me feel like a different person — until I didn’t know who I was anymore.
I am not the same person that I was before cancer. Breast cancer did a lot of horrible damage to my body and mental health, but there are many things that have been changed for the better.
Not every day is sunshine and roses, some days are full of horror, however, I am always trying to look at the positive side of life.
Breast cancer can take away my breasts and my hair, but there is one thing cancer can’t take away from me — my spirit.
Follow Melissa’s journey on wisdo.com
Originally published at The Wisdonian.