Losing My Hair Helped Me Empathize With Others

Losing my hair from breast cancer treatments was an emotional experience for me and helped me empathize with others who also lost their hair.

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer at age 30, my first fear was losing my life.

Our basic needs teach us survival and safety are our front most needs, but once those are met, with a cancer diagnosis, what is our next biggest fear to tackle?

For some it’s losing their breasts and their bodies, their finances and other emotional topics. I don’t disagree, except, I was OK with my breasts being gone. My attitude became, “If I don’t need it and it’s trying to kill me, just take it out.”

When my oncologist told me I’d have chemo first before my double mastectomy so we could see how the tumors respond to the chemo (I had five tumors, all grade 3, ER-positive), my first question was, “Will I lose my hair?” My oncologist nodded, and it just gutted me.

Why hair? Hair is what I loved all my life. I spent 30 years growing out my luscious blond locks and being so happy and proud of my own thick hair. It was my sunshine locks and what made me, or so I thought.

Two treatments into chemo, I started losing my hair, and I had my neighbor, Brenda, cut my hair short to a pixie. I had never had this short hair in my life, mainly because I hated my 5-year-old early 90s short hair with bangs. I never wanted short hair, nor did I ever experiment. I knew the risks, and the consequences, and the time it would take to grow back.

The pixie cut was bizarre, however, I am so grateful I did, because it prepared me for the next stage. The next 10 days were spent losing clumps of hair and leaving a trail everywhere I went of me. Shedding my hair during fall was like the trees losing their leaves. Poetic, depressing, artistic. The label fit, and I found great comfort in natural symbolism during that time.

One brave fall night, it was time to shave my head. With teardrops falling, my husband chopped the remaining hair off, and buzzed my head bald. Full of tears, my eyes would not open to face that mirror and see what I looked bald. My husband kissed my bald head and told me “Let’s go to sleep, beautiful.”

The following morning, I wore my wig for the first time, and I walked into work. No one had any idea what happened the night before (except my coworker I had texted). Everyone treated me so beautifully; They all knew I had cancer, but they didn’t know about my bald head yet. I made it through the workday feeling like my old self a little, but in a new body.

Over time, wearing my blonde wig (which looked so much like my old hair) became so much easier. One day at work, I became so overheated in a meeting, I took my wig off, and kept it off the rest of the day. From that day on, I stopped wearing my wig, and I just wore a hat, or a wrap over my head because it got so cold!

During my time being bald, I felt so much empathy for others with hair loss or baldness. I felt bad for men who lose their hair permanently, and how our culture makes fun of them.

As my hair started to grow back in the spring, like buds on trees, and the green grass started to grow, I found that I began to not mind short hair. I began using hair clips, head bands, and styling my hair with a little attitude. I also found ways to gel and pomade my hair, and then came in a little chemo curl, which was neat. My hair grew in much darker, and to this day, is still much darker than my original blonde locks. It’s taken about three and a half years to get my hair to below my shoulders, and just top of my pits.

Since my cancer is stage 4, my hair loss will be permanent. My medications cause alopecia (hair loss). As my hair was growing back in 2020, it started thinning badly, and shortly after, I had bald patches all over my head, but mullet length hair. I began a hair journey to get hair thickening shampoo and conditioner. It has been the wildest two-plus years to fight the hair thinning, but I finally have thick hair and zero bald patches.

Looking back, I’d lose my hair all over again, because it gave me such empathy for others, and I’ve met so many folks and helped others with hair thinning as well. I’ve also gained a lot of insight that this doesn’t have to be from cancer, but so much of it is, and it’s not addressed enough in terms of resources.

For me, I researched and researched, and went back to basics. I put pure castor oil on my scalp at night two to three times a week. I supplement with Monat Black shampoo and conditioner and dry my hair in a hair towel.

Sharing my story about hair loss has brought me empathy, courage, connections and love. I’ve been able to help others, and I hope I continue to do so by always being open about these hardships, and struggles. Hair loss isn’t easy, nor is being bald, and so many of us have gone through this which is why no one is ever alone in this fight.

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