Kathy LaTour is a breast cancer survivor, author of The Breast Cancer Companion and co-founder of CURE magazine. While cancer did not take her life, she has given it willingly to educate, empower and enlighten the newly diagnosed and those who care for them.
"Good luck, and if you can’t keep your hair, just remember it puts a bad hair day in perspective."
I am bald again. Well, not completely but it looks like it did when it was two months of new growth after chemotherapy — except it isn’t as healthy. This time, according to my hairdresser, I hit the perfect storm of what causes hair loss. I had surgery on my foot twice, I had heart problems that cut my oxygen severely, I had a fast weight loss and I turned 70. Boy does it take me back when I look in the mirror, and, you know what, today I don’t care. Wigs today are so much better than they were, and I have two I can plop on and take off.
But when I lost my hair from chemotherapy it was a very different matter. It was probably the hardest thing I faced, because it was the visible reminder that I had cancer. My breast was replaced with a nice facsimile, but my hair was unique to me and then it was gone.
At 36 losing my hair was like adding insult to injury. I did positive imagery and decided I would be in the 5% who didn’t lose their hair. When my hair started falling out the 14th day after my first chemo session I was devastated. It did provide a rather intimate moment when my husband shaved my head.
I find it funny when people ask why I would shave my head and not hang on to my hair for as long as possible. The reason, dear friends, is that the hair is not hanging on, it is falling out in your bed, in your clothes while cooking, in your car while driving and in your baby’s mouth while holding her. It was terrible, and I felt the easiest thing to do was just bite the bullet. But, hey, I had terrible hair, so losing it wasn’t as hard as it is for some women who really see their hair as their shining glory.
Hair falls out because many cancer drugs go after rapidly dividing cells, which are the intestine and hair follicles a well as cancer. Thus strong reactions -- read vomit and hair loss. For me much of my body hair never came back. I have to shave my legs once a year, and my underarms are clean as a baby’s butt — as is the other area close to my butt.
I bought one very expensive human hair wig, and let me tell you, the problem with human hair is that it acts like human hair, and you never know what it’s going to do. I developed a theory that women buy three wigs, one for what they want to look like, one for what they think they look like, and one for how they really look.
I did try to keep my hair, using what was available back then, which was a cold cap. Before starting chemo they crammed all my hair under what looked like a frozen swim cap. That lasted all of about three seconds before I started screaming to take it off. If you have ever had an ice cream headache you know how terrible it feels when your nose is on fire and freezing at the same time. Watching other women reading a magazine while freezing astounded me, but it was proof again that we are all different. What I didn’t like was them looking at me like I was a woos.
No way, no how. So I just shaved my head and got three wigs: One that hit me at the shoulders with a blonde streak down the side because I always wanted sassy long hair; one that was short and heavily frosted (or streaked), and one that was permanently curly that I could shake out and put on.
Well you can figure which one I wore every day, just giving it a good shake before putting it on. Scarves didn’t work either because to wear a scarf you have to have the correctly shaped head, which I don’t. I ended up looking like a peasant woman in a babushka (read scarf tied under the chin). My hair did grow back and it was actually thicker for a while. Today, age, hormones, and my perfect storm tell me it probably won’t grow back, and if it does it will be the same wimpy dishwater brown I have come to know and love.
Good luck, and if you can’t keep your hair, just remember it puts a bad hair day in perspective.