For most people (except for my gorgeous hubby!) hair is such a fundamental part of our personality, it affects how we feel about ourselves, how we’re able to go about our daily lives and how we present ourselves to the world. Having a full head of healthy, beautiful hair can be an expression of individuality, a symbol of fertility and makes us feel more attractive and confident. Of course, we take all of this for granted, until there comes a time when it is taken away.
Losing your hair is difficult for anyone of any age or gender, but as a woman I have found it extremely hard – it’s part of who I am, how I present myself to the world and to me, it’s what makes me feel feminine.
Hair loss is much more than just a visual and cosmetic problem as I was soon to find out – it affects people emotionally too. Compared to those unaffected, people who struggle with hair loss have a more negative body image and are less able to cope with daily functioning. Hair loss can also be associated with low self-esteem, depression, introversion, and feelings of unattractiveness.
I had tried as hard as I could to mentally prepare myself for losing my hair, but in reality nothing can really prepare you for how it feels when it starts to come out. Two weeks after I’d had my first chemo treatment my scalp started to feel a little tingly and a bit itchy. In the days that followed, I noticed quite a few strands coming out and then almost a week after when I washed my hair, absolutely loads started to come out.
I burst into tears and couldn’t stop crying. I wanted to be as strong and as positive as I could be trying to deal with this whole experience, but I think when I started to lose my hair all the feelings and emotions I’d had inside about having cancer all came bubbling up to the surface and out like molten lava from a volcano. I became even more aware of my situation and started to deal with the emotions perhaps I had been previously more numb to. I felt like I was grieving for my hair, and grieving for the person I used to be. The reality of the start of this process was much harder than I ever imagined.
As silly as it sounds, having lived with having cancer and all it has encompassed and its low points for over 5 months of this year , I think it really hit me that I was officially a cancer patient – soon to be balding – no disguising the fact now. I felt down at the bottom low.
Right now as I write this it is a gloriously sunny day and I feel down right miserable. I love being outside in the sun and I can’t even do that due to photosensitivity from the chemo. My hair is falling out and very soon I know I’m going to look like the a typical ‘cancer victim’. I’m supposed to be going out today to a friend’s house for a birthday gathering and all I want to do is stay at home and not go anywhere or see anyone. I know this is not healthy for me as I need to have the courage to go out into the world and face people, and I’ll have to do it without any hair very soon, but it’s the way I feel today. Why did cancer pick me? What did I really do to deserve this sh1t?! Well I know that’s a damn stupid question because nobody in this world deserves to have cancer, it’s just sh1t bad luck. If by me having it I can reduce the statistical chance of my husband, one of my family or my friends having it then I’ll take it for the team. It still sucks.
I’m completely infatuated with other people’s hair. I look at my friends who have lovely long flowing locks, and look people in the street and on TV who all have amazing hair and I’m insanely jealous. I will never complain about having a bad hair day ever again. In fact, I won’t be complaining about a lot of minor and unimportant things in life again.
As the days turned into weeks, more and more hair continued to come out. There would be hair on my pillow, it would collect around my shoulders and even just by touching it, it would come away in my hands. The whole experience takes you right down to zero and it really rocked me to the core psychologically. I didn’t want to see people and I didn’t want people to see me either.
I stopped washing my hair so frequently – each hair wash was a form of torture – a bit more of me washing down the plughole. It magnified and intensified everything and brought all sorts of emotions to the fore. I’d psych myself up each time I washed my hair, telling myself that I could do this, that it was okay and that I would be alright. I’d take a long deep breath before looking in the mirror and would be scared of who was going to be looking back at me.
It may have been easier if I’d just shaved my head, I know other ladies have found this to be helpful – to ‘take back control’. I’d have to plan it strategically as I certainly didn’t feel like drinking alcohol for about 2 weeks after my chemo treatment, and I definitely wasn’t going to be shaving my head without the aid of a glass of wine for dutch courage! But I just didn’t have the balls to do it. I also thought I’d try getting my hair cut in a ‘pixie’ style, I felt all brave and empowered one day when I booked the appointment, but then I chickened out at the last minute, I just wasn’t ready yet.
Everyone says to you ‘it’s only temporary, it’ll grow back’, but that doesn’t really help when it’s actually happening, when it’s your world and it’s all too consuming. I can’t really imagine that far ahead into the future at the moment, when I’ll have hair that resembles something normal, or near to how it was – I’m just taking each day as it comes.
Thanks to my dear friend Lou and the kindness and generosity of my amazing friends, family and work colleagues I have been able to get two wigs. One is synthetic and a darker shorter style and the other a longer, blonder, real human hair wig.
The first time I wore the synthetic one out of the house I needed my husband to come with me. It felt so odd to be outside the house wearing it, it was unreal. But the comfort and support of walking next to Pats made it a lot easier to bear. The first time I wore the human hair wig out I was by myself. Check me out! It was an unbelievably scary experience – I felt so vulnerable and exposed.
For that first trip out in my human hair wig I actually wore it to the opticians. Brilliant, pick a place where you need to get up really close in front of someone why don’t you Allie?! As I walked up the crowded street to the opticians, I literally felt like I had one of those big lottery hands pointing down at me or a big neon light above my head with “She’s wearing a wig!” emblazoned on it. Although of course I have no doubt whatsoever that nobody batted an eye lid that day.
I got into the shop and sat waiting for my appointment, tapping away on my phone trying not to make eye contact with anybody. I was called into the eye testing room by a young chap, and the whole time I was thinking, he knows I’m wearing a wig, what on earth must he be thinking. I felt so silly – it’s like being a pubescent teenager again with all the worries and hang ups you have about your body.
Through the powers of twitter I recently came across a young lady called Nalie Augustin. If you are someone who is facing the prospect of losing your hair or who already has, or who is just having a tough time in your cancer treatment I’d thoroughly recommend listening to her TEDTalk. I found her so inspiring and it’s hard not to be uplifted by her spirit, courage and outlook. She also created a hair dairy showing her hair growth every week for 22 weeks following her last chemo treatment – it’s amazing to see.
The more light hearted side of the hair situation is that I now get to choose which persona I want to be each day when I put my wig on! I really feel the need to name my wigs, but am yet to do so – I would love to know your thoughts?!