Caption "Lessons in Loss" above clouds low in the sky at sunset
Lessons in Loss

Lessons in Loss 6: Losing My Hair

I think about loss from time to time, as you probably know if you’re a regular reader over here. I’ve discussed recovery from loss of a baby and other people’s reactions. But, we don’t only struggle or grieve over the loss of a person – whether they were fully-formed or not. Sometimes loss is part of growing into the person we have become, sometimes it leaves us feeling like something’s fundamentally missing, sometimes we can’t remember what it was like before we lost whatever it was. In this series of posts, I’ve asked some of my favourite blogging colleagues to write about a loss that they’ve experienced and how it affected them. You can find the full list here.

Today’s post comes from the wonderful Michelle at Boomer Eco Crusader. Her blog is a beautiful combination of sage advice, contemplations on health and wellbeing, and touching lessons learned from personal experience.

Losing my hair

First, a big thank you to Smelly Socks and Garden Peas for asking me to be part of this series. I love her blog and the conversations we share on our blog posts.

I have to admit, when she first asked me to participate, I wasn’t sure. So many people have suffered devastating losses. I didn’t feel qualified to write a post about loss. But when Smell suggested it didn’t have to be about the loss of a person, I put my thinking cap on. An idea started to take shape.  

What losing my hair taught me about myself

In 2021, I’ll celebrate my 10year “cancerversary” – the anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis.

After surgery, my treatment plan involved chemotherapy and radiation treatments. When I met with the oncologist to discuss my upcoming chemotherapy, she told me I would start to lose my hair about two weeks after my first treatment.

It’s no big deal…

I’ve never been obsessed with appearance, so my first reaction was “It’s no big deal. It’s only hair. It will grow back.” In my online cancer discussion group, much of the conversation centred on hair loss. I was surprised that, for many of these women, losing their hair was one of the most distressing aspects of their cancer diagnosis.

Wondering what all the fuss was about, I decided to get ready. First, I went to a local wig store and bought a wig. Being the practical type, I also went to my hairdresser and asked her to cut my thick, curly, shoulder-length, hair short. I couldn’t stand the thought of all that hair falling out and the mess it would make.

Feeling like I was prepared and still thinking it was no big deal, I went to my first chemotherapy appointment.

Then it happened…

Sure enough, right on schedule, I started to lose my hair two weeks after my first chemotherapy treatment. At first it was a few strands, then it was big clumps. After a few days, I was pretty much bald.

Still no big deal.

Putting on the wig…

One of the worst days of my cancer journey was the day I put that horrible brown wig on for the first time. I was home alone one morning while my husband was at work and the girls were at school. I had arranged to meet some friends for lunch. As I looked at my bald head in the mirror, I decided it was time.

After putting on the wig I had bought, I looked in the mirror and burst into tears. Then, I sat on my bed and had a really good cry.

Why was I crying? Funnily enough, it had nothing to do with being bald. I was okay with being bald. I was crying because that person looking back at me from the mirror wasn’t me. Putting on the wig turned me into an imposter. In a strange way, it was like cancer had taken away my identity.

After a while, I pulled myself together. Then, the horrible brown wig and I went off to meet my friends for lunch.

Those were the last tears I would shed during my cancer journey.

From tears to laughter

After wearing the horrible brown wig for a few days, I decided it would never be my friend. It was itchy and gave me a headache. It also didn’t look anything like me, or anyone I wanted to be.

Soon after, I enjoyed a fun afternoon with my dear friend Pat who had been through breast cancer treatment about 15 years earlier. Having spent years in local theatre, Pat had a collection of props and wigs. We drank tea while I tried on her wigs. We laughed and laughed. I went home from her house with a blonde wig and a red wig so I could decide which one was “me”.

After trying both, I decided that blondes don’t have more fun. The red wig was definitely me.

From some research, I also learned that I have an extra large head. That explained the headaches! I ordered a cute red wig with an extra large cap. I also bought a selection of colourful scarves. Problem solved.

For the rest of my treatment period, I mostly wore the scarves. For bigger outings like church or events at my kids’ school, I rocked that awesome large-cap red wig.

It did grow back

About eight months after losing my hair, it had grown back enough that I could ditch the wigs and scarves. I had fun wearing the red wig, but I was happy to turn the page on a new chapter.

Although I didn’t need them any more, I hung onto that cute red wig (and the horrible brown wig) for a couple of years after I finished treatment. It was mostly a superstitious thing. I worried that, if I got rid of them, the cancer would return and I’d need them again. Eventually, I donated the wigs to our local cancer support centre.

P.S. It really was no big deal

Reflecting on my experience, I realize I was right all along. In the grand scheme of a cancer diagnosis and everything that comes with it, losing my hair really was no big deal.

I learned that my appearance doesn’t define me. For me, being real and authentic is more important than how I look.

After my hair grew back, I embraced the grey. These days, I wear my hair “au naturel” – short, grey and curly. It’s so freeing not to spend time and money on hair dyes and long salon appointments.  

Although I will carry the emotional legacy of a cancer diagnosis for the rest of my life, that day that I put on the horrible brown wig feels like a lifetime ago.

I survived cancer.

And… losing my hair was no big deal!

40 thoughts on “Lessons in Loss 6: Losing My Hair”

  1. Wonderful post and equally wonderful on your ‘anniversary’.
    It’s 5 years for me since Humphrey and a lumpectomy, then Dick appeared in 2019 and it was bye bye breast. No reconstruction for me, I didn’t want it, besides, there was more to me that a boob. It didn’t change me, how my friends saw me, or how my husband loved me. and we faced it all together.
    I was lucky, and Humphrey was so pathetic, he didn’t register high enough on the chart to warrant chemo doing me any good. The relief was wonderful, but like you, I had decided if it was to happen, I would have my long dark hair cut short and deal with it. I had 20 sessions of radiotherapy that first time, but with the mastectomy, nothing apart from a change in meds. We caught both early, but it still hangs over me. If I get a third strike in the other breast, no messing about, they can make the sides match and I’ll save a fortune on lingerie. I have The Precious in a box in the drawer and some pretty ‘pocket’ bras, but usually don’t bother.
    Keep well and take care.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Michelle. I was surrounded by positivity and faced it all with humour too. People asked how I chose the names Humphrey and Dick. I;ve never liked the name Humphrey, and Dick was a play on DCIS and all the Dicks I knew were right tits which is where he was lurking, damn cheek!! I have my next mammogram in November now. Keep well.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. This was so beautiful to read. We feel like we are getting to know you more and more with each post we read. You are such a positive and inspirational energy Michelle. They way you tell your story brought us to tears but also to strength and happiness for you. Your resilience in not wanting to lose your identity was powerful. Thank you for sharing. You are an extraordinary woman. xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I cannot even begin to imagine what it feels like to lose all your hair. I had/have a hair plucking problem which leaves patches of bald head…just patches, imagine that! Those patches leave me devastated. My precious squiggly strands stay in my fingers. Hair is such a big deal to women. I don’t know how this came to be. When you looked into the mirror and felt like somebody else without your locks…I felt that. Goodbye Ugly brown wig.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for sharing this, you’re so strong! Your attitude is amazing towards it all but you’re so right in saying that hair does grow back xx

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Thank you so much for sharing your personal journey. I think losing hair from cancer treatment is something that a lot of people would think wasn’t a big deal but really, we will never know unless it happens to us. But in the grand scheme of things, it isn’t a big deal because you survived and that’s the main thing! xx

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thank you for sharing this. I think for many, the loss of hair isn’t about appearance as much as it is the loss of their identity. Who you are as a person is the one thing that we grow up believing no one can take from us. Life can take the cars, the house, the money, the clothing… but it can’t take who we are. However, when you look in the mirror and you don’t recognize the person staring back, it can feel like the disease has done just that. It’s so important to talk about this so that people don’t feel alone! I know that it’s a topic that comes up a lot in our cancer support group.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s exactly it! For me, it was about being real and authentic and that person in the mirror felt like a stranger at first. I remember wearing my wig to church and not wanting to get up and sing in front of other people. Our choir leader made me do it and I ended up being glad she did.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Oh wow! What an inspirational story. I love my hair, so I don’t know how I’d feel if I’d ever lost it. However, you handled it like a champ and kicked cancer’s butt!

    All the best, Michelle (michellesclutterbox.com)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It’s like a lot of things, Michelle. You don’t know how you’re going to react until it happens. For me, hair was one of the lesser considerations compared to everything else going on at the time. I think that’s why my initial emotional reaction surprised me.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Wow this post has made me feel so many different emotions. Your positivity and amazing attitude is what shines through! Hair is just hair but when it’s your hair, it’s a little tough I bet!
    Thank you for sharing this, what an incredible, humbling read!

    Rosie

    Liked by 4 people

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