Cancer treatment: coping with hair loss during chemotherapy 

Hair loss is a potential side effect of chemotherapy. Jessica, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, talks about her experience with chemotherapy and describes how the hair loss affected her. Also, an expert gives advice on how to cope with hair loss and where to find support.

Learn more about the side effects of chemotherapy

Transcript of Cancer treatment: coping with hair loss during chemotherapy

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I didn't feel sick.

I didn't feel like there was anything wrong with me.

I was going to have surgery,

they would get rid of it and that would be that.

But in the course of the surgery they then found cancer in the lymph nodes,

which means that it potentially had spread.

So that necessitated chemotherapy.

Lots of people who are diagnosed with cancer will have chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy attacks the cancer cells in the body,

but in doing so it also attacks healthy cells.

And a side-effect of this is sometimes hair loss.

Losing my hair I thought, "I'm going to look like a cancer victim."

Some people lose all of their body hair.

This can happen quite gradually or suddenly in some cases.

Others don't even lose all of the hair on their head,

so it is very different for everyone.

Four days after the second treatment my head was really itching

and I decided to wash it.

And as I was washing it, it literally came out in my hands like a mop.

And it was a most shocking experience to just see it like that.

With hindsight, I probably would have got it cut really short like this,

as a preparation, but that would have been difficult at the time.

I think there are lots of different options

in terms of coping with the concept of losing hair.

People do cope with it very differently.

Some people are very open about it

and may choose to shave off all their hair right from the start

and be very honest about what's happening.

Others want things to appear as normal as possible,

so they might choose to wear a wig every day,

others might want to wear a wig

and alternate it with a scarf when they're at home.

If you get your hair cut short,

I would suggest getting a little sleeping cap,

so it's not all in your bed when it starts coming out,

because that's quite distressing.

There is something called a cold cap, it works by cooling the blood supply

to the hair follicles

and this can mean less chemicals reach the hair follicles,

potentially causing less hair loss.

This does work really well for some people not so well for others,

it's very dependent on the treatment given

and the dosage of treatment given.

But if you are interested,

you can talk to your specialist or your chemo nurse

about how suitable it might be for you.

They pump refrigerated stuff in and it freezes your head basically.

It goes down to about -6 degrees.

And you sit there with it on for about four hours,

quite a long time, and... it didn't really work for me.

It didn't work for me.

And after the second chemotherapy

about half of my hair fell out, so I didn't bother with it after that.

And, I have to say, it was a great relief.

Many people do lose their eyebrows and eyelashes as well as their hair

and make-up such as eyeliner,

false eyelashes and eyebrow pencils can help here.

Lots of centres run workshops to help with these techniques.

The answer to all of this was to wear a lot of make-up,

to wear lots of lipstick, you know, eye shadow.

I could draw my eyebrows on with a pencil.

The eyelashes there's not much you can do about it,

but eyeliner makes a big difference,

it gives that impression of something being there.

There are lots of sources of support out there.

People can talk to their specialist, their health care provider.

Lots of women find it very helpful to talk to other women

who are in a similar situation.

There's lots of information on the Breast Cancer Care website

about hair loss and also contact details for local support groups.

It becomes about making it part of my outfit,

rather than thinking, "How am I going to disguise the fact that I'm bald."

It's more, "How am I going to integrate that into my whole look."

That really worked for me and I think it's a good approach.

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