I have to say it feels strange to still be writing about what has happened to my hair since it started growing back over three years ago after finishing treatment for breast cancer. After a recent experience with my hair I wanted to write this blog post to understand if other people have experienced similar emotions. I finished active treatment in 2016 and having grown my hair out ever since, it had got to a rather long length. On a recent visit to my hair dresser, he recommended having more cut off than just my usual trim and to keep the ends healthy etc. I thought about this for a while longer and by the time of my next appointment, I was feeling brave enough and decided to go for it and have it cut off.
In those early days of my hair beginning to grow back after treatment, it was thick, curly and a rather dull, pewter colour. Having rectified the colour situation, I came to absolutely love the new thick texture and curls that had been created from the chemical concoction of chemotherapy drugs. Using a balayage technique, my hairdresser had created a beautiful colour to my hair, that was darker at the roots with a natural, sun-kissed look on the ends. Having spent a couple of weeks in the delightful Maldives a few months earlier, this had also magnified the colour beautifully.
What some people constitute as having a lot of hair cut off and what I do are probably wildly different. I guess others might think if you’ve had such short hair before it wouldn’t be a big deal to have your hair cut. Let’s be clear here, this was no bob! But, having worked up the courage to have some length cut off, I sat and watched as my hairdresser gleefully snipped away at the ends of my hair. I saw the lacklustre strands falling to the floor like a shower of sun scorched blades of grass.
My hair dresser had done a fabulous job that day, as he always does, but I left the salon that morning feeling pleased that my hair was in better condition, but also a strange feeling of sadness, like a little bit of me was missing. Gone were the last of my ‘chemo curls’ and so too was the sun-kissed colour.
Whether it’s deemed to be shallow or not, whether women commonly have this feeling or if it’s because I lost my hair to cancer and now having it back in all its glory, my state of mind and perception of myself seems to be inextricably linked with my hair. I guess others might see cutting the curls off as a positive way of saying f**k you to cancer and I can understand that. Pre-cancer I’d have to spend ages to create curls with heated styling tools. Having lovely wavy hair was the only upside of my cancer experience and I guess I wanted to hold on to that benefit for as long as I could.
These sorts of things make you realise that even when you think you’re ‘out the other side’ of cancer, there are still a lot of painful memories and emotions tied up with hair and the every day of life. They often come at a time when you think you’re ‘okay’ with it. As healthcare website, WebMD says:
Even the normal and mundane things in life can often throw up a reminder of your cancer when you’re least expecting it. Now, every time I go on holiday, I beep as I go through the airport scanner. This is because of the metal marker clips put in my breast where the tumour site was and I have to go through the public pat-down and additional security checks. Clearly air safety is paramount and I’m glad they’re so thorough, I have just come to expect the little reminder on every trip now. I’m thankful of course that I am lucky enough to still be alive, well and able to go on holidays and enjoy life.
Having experienced some back pain towards the end of last year, I underwent a series of tests/x-rays and had a precautionary spine MRI earlier this year. Whilst it did show that I have a slight curvature of the spine, I was pleased to know there was nothing more sinister going on. Thankfully I have had both my yearly mammogram and MRI scan showing “no concerning features” so feel utterly grateful to have another year clear under my belt.
These feelings are always laced with guilt when you hear news of others who have faced much more cruel luck against cancer. I’d got back in touch with a colleague I worked with over 20 years ago, learning that he had been diagnosed with colon cancer. I’ve always tried my best to help others who have been diagnosed, trying to give useful information, tips, reference sites and support and encouragement that will hopefully aid them along their own journey. We’d email each other and he’d update me on where he was with his treatment. After his treatment finished, his cancer returned in his lung and sadly he passed away earlier this year. Another dear soul, taken at far too young an age to this cruel disease.
The written word is my favourite form of communication and I always find it a cathartic and healing process to put my feelings onto paper. My poor hairdresser was mortified to learn that I’d regretted having my hair cut. He will never know how just cutting a few inches of my hair off would have such a cataclysmic effect. Now with the last of my chemo waves gone, I bizarrely still feel the need to curl my hair and don’t like to go out of the house with it straight!
My hair will regain its length very soon and this will all be a distant memory again. I absolutely cherish the fact that life continues to travel upwards. I think I feel more happier and content now than ever before. My job is going really well and I’ve just surprisingly been nominated for an excellence award for my work on a recent bid. I was so gobsmacked that my colleagues had taken the time to write a nomination for me, it’s such an honour and massive confidence boost.
I’d be really interested to know if anyone else has experienced similar feelings in relation to their hair after losing it through cancer treatment, or for any other reason.
You might also be interested in my posts Breast cancer photo diary – Diagnosis, treatment, hair loss and beyond showing how hair can grow back after breast cancer treatment and How I felt losing my hair.