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Hair loss during chemotherapy
Whether it is due to aging, stress, heredity, illness, or chemotherapy, hair loss can be devastating to some. Having cancer is bad enough, but losing one’s hair to chemotherapy is an added loss that is very painful emotionally. Do we laugh it off? Cry and hide? Walk with pride and show the baldness off? Wear hats, wigs, or toupees? Whatever the reason that our hair is gone today, what is important is how we cope with it.
Prepare for a change
Hair loss is a potential side effect of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. It may occur throughout the body, hair may fall out entirely, gradually, or in sections. In some cases, hair will simply become thin and may become duller or dryer. Hair loss related to cancer treatment is usually temporary. Most of the time, hair will grow back. The amount of hair loss varies from person to person. Even people taking the same drugs for the same cancer will have a different amount of hair loss. How much hair you lose depends on the drug and the dose. It also depends on whether you receive the drug as a pill, into a vein, or on the skin. Hair starts to regrow about one to three months after chemotherapy ends. It often takes about six to 12 months for your hair to regrow completely.
Managing hair loss
Learning how to manage hair loss before, during, and after treatment may help you cope with this side effect. For many people, hair loss because of cancer treatment is more than just a change in physical appearance.
It is hard to imagine what it is like to lose your hair. Men frequently lose their hair as part of an ageing process, but for women hair has always been considered to be their crowning glory. With chemotherapy treatments, keeping your crowning glory is often a challenge. Of course, not all chemotherapy agents make you lose your hair, but sadly many do and all too often this can be distressing for many women. In fact, so distressing at times, women can be reluctant to undergo necessary treatments for fear of coping with hair loss. So how do women cope?
If you are brave enough you might decide to take control and shave it off. You can argue that taking control, when you are floating in a world that all of a sudden is out of control, can be empowering. Then there is always the wig and the numerous head attire and scarves.
Wearing a cap or head covering with cold packs before, during, or after chemotherapy may help prevent hair loss. The cold narrows the blood vessels in the skin on your head. This may mean that less of the drug reaches the hair follicles. The cold caps are generally available to rent online throughout your treatment. Talk with your health care team to find out if this approach may work for you.
A loss for a reason
Buying a wig is not that easy. There is a big emotional piece that is useful to address before you make this step. Hair loss is called a loss for a reason. Women undergoing cancer treatment may feel a particular sense of loss that is unique and important to consider. Before purchasing a wig, you may consider preparing yourself emotionally for the decision.
After learning they have cancer people may prepare for a strange mix of feelings swirling inside them, which include: denial, anger, fear, stress, anxiety, depression, sadness, guilt, and loneliness. These feelings may spill over when they are trying to decide the best way to cope with the symptom of hair loss during treatment.
It is advisable to try to find an online or in-person support group that fits who you are and where you are in the process. Talk to people about your concerns and seek support when you need it. Explore your own reactions with friends and family by sharing this important decision with them.
Before purchasing a wig, check with your health insurance company to see if it is covered. Deciding to purchase a wig is a big decision that is completely and totally up to you. If you are still in the deciding process, allow yourself to be there for as long as you need to be in order to feel comfortable.
Taking care of regrown hair
Hair may grow back a different texture or colour than your original hair. When your hair begins to regrow, it is important to care for it carefully. At first, new hair will be much finer and more easily damaged than your original hair. The following tips may be helpful if you are caring for regrown hair.
Limit washing the hair to twice a week. Massage the scalp to remove dry skin and flakes. Avoid hard brushing of hair. Instead, gently use a wide-tooth comb. When styling the hair, limit the amount of pinning, curling, or blow-drying with high heat. Avoid curling or straightening the hair with chemical products, such as permanent wave solutions, until the hair has regrown. Before trying chemical products again, test a small patch of hair to see how it reacts. Avoid permanent or semi-permanent hair colouring for at least three months after treatment.