Where do I start with this subject?!
For me, the very very very worst part of chemo was losing my hair. There was NO WAY I wanted to lose it. I did everything I possibly could, I cold capped, followed the rules to the letter, but still ended up looking like the love child of Albert Einstein and the Professor from Back to the Future and ended up getting my hairdresser to cut it all off (to about 1cm all over) at the end of cycle 4.
If you scroll down to the bottom of this page, you'll see how 4 months post chemo, I've had extensions! Yes, extensions! I've ditched the wig! So read on for more info!
For some ladies, losing their hair and rocking the bald look brings them strength and a way of saying "F*** you, cancer". I admire any lady that decides to go bald, shave it off and deal with it without looking back. I'm afraid I was at the opposite end of the scale. I mourned the loss of my hair and couldn't wait to do something about it.
HAIR DURING CHEMO - AND THE FALL OUT:
If you don't cold cap, typically with most breast cancer chemotherapy drugs, you will lose hair at some point during Cycle 2. It might come out in a few days or take a few weeks. You may have a horrible tight, burning, fizzing or painful feeling as the hair folicles are shedding. If you start to feel this pain, it's typically the start of losing the hair (not something I was warned about beforehand). It's at this point that lots of ladies shave it off to get some relief. I understand that by shaving it off, it does help with the pain.
Even if you cold cap, shedding may start at the same point during chemo. With cold capping you may find that you lose a significant amount of hair and end up with thin straggles (like I did). Some ladies feel comfortable that they've retained hair but still wear a wig/hat/scarf. It's very very individual and what's right for one person could be totally wrong for you.
HOW SOON DOES MY HAIR GROW BACK?
This is very individual. My hair started to grow back (slowly) during my second set of chemotherapy drugs (Paclitaxel). By the last session (and I had 12 weeks of it), I had about 1/2 an inch of hair all over apart from the top that had definitely bald patches.
The hair on my head has come back in weird colours with a very strange texture - soft in some places and very curly and almost afro type texture in other areas! I've got
patches of pure white, pure black and steel grey! I look a bit like a
dalmation! Not an attractive look!
EYEBROW, EYELASHES & BODY HAIR:
My eyebrows and eyelashes grew back about 6 weeks after the last chemo. My Nurse told me that they are usually the last things to go and she was right. Mine have grown back darker and thicker than before chemo which is a lovely bonus!
Hair in other areas also grew back at about the 6 week stage - again, much darker than before and more prolific!
HOWEVER, 17 weeks after my last chemo and I started to lose both my eyelashes and eyebrows again but this time there were already small stubby ones growing. If you think about it, it makes sense that you may shed all at the same time as they all grew at the same time. I'm guessing that this will keep happening until the growing rates happen at different times. A bit frustrating and a reminder of having cancer. :(
WHEN CAN I DYE MY HAIR:
Every single Oncologist and Nurse I asked said the same thing "6 months". This is to allow the hair (that is likely to be weak) to recover and avoid fall out.
I am going to be honest and tell you what I did but I am NOT advocating anybody does this. I am impatient and having Dalmation hair was seriously affecting my mental state. I was due to have my mastectomy 6 weeks after chemo and I kept thinking if I died on the operating table, I didn't want to die with grey hair! Looking back, that's very stupid but it's how I felt at the time.
So I researched "safer" hair dyes. There are very few for blonde hair as most of the natural products, like Henna for example, colour darker hair. What I found out was that whilst the "natural" brands had taken out elements that were particularly nasty, they still had a whole host of chemicals - and if you think about it logically, they have to have something quite strong in them to change the colour of your hair.
I ended up buying Daniel Field's Watercolour dyes. Depending on how you use it, it's either temporary or permanent. I chose to do it the permanent way. It certainly did change the colour of my hair but the grey sort of shone through so it was a really really odd colour. Sort of dirty blonde grey. Two days later I tried a warmer shade and went quite ginger (with undertones of grey). At that point I decided to leave it alone and hope I didn't die during the operation!
I lasted until 4 months post chemo and then my hairdresser dyed my hair a lovely blonde (to match my wig). That worked and there was no more Dalmation.
I honestly think that the reason my hair has withstood all of this is because I cold capped. Although unsuccessful, I do believe it's protected my hair to a certain extent so all that freezing was worth it!
HAIR EXTENSIONS AFTER CHEMO:
Quite by chance, I stumbled across a Facebook page by Jenna Bright called Hair in Recovery. I was intrigued (and sceptical) about what it was and how it worked.
I recognised the name of one of the ladies on the website as a fellow breast cancer sufferer and decided to drop her a message asking whether it was good or not. She was so helpful and told me everything I wanted to know.
Jenna (who is based in Leeds) is one of a handful of Trainers who work with Racoon International, specialising in extensions (both the normal type and then a system specifically for those who have suffered hair loss).
The "Hair in Recovery" system works by using a "glue" - which is not actually a glue but a natural product - and strands of hair are attached to your own hair but with tiny bonds. When I say tiny, I mean it! Even smaller than a grain of rice and as the bond is similar in colour to honey, it is transparent so takes on the colour of the hair.
In all honesty, it takes ages to have it done the first time, so you do get a bit of a numb bum and I was also anxious at taking my wig off, others seeing me and also what the end result would be! It's quite a big decision because you do have monthly upkeep (to move the bonds up the hair as it grows so they remain unseen) but honestly, the difference it made to my mood was amazing. For the first time in over a year I started to feel confident again and that I looked and felt "normal".
After a year of extensions, my hair was long enough to just have a few around the sides and front (where it had grown back much slower) and at 18 months I could have gone without them if I had wanted. The great thing was that I could also have my roots dyed (to hide the dreaded grey) so it really was just like having my hair back.
I have since recommended lots of ladies in a similar position to Racoon and would continue to do so. The bonds have not damaged my hair in any way and in fact, my hair was allowed to grow back at its own pace. As you only wash your hair/extensions about twice a week, your hair doesn't dry out either. I found a good Keratin based shampoo and conditioner worked really well and I also used a shine spray on the ends of the extensions to keep them in good condition.
If you are interested in having the Hair in Recovery system, you can find details on the Racoon website (easily found with an internet search) or give them a call and they can tell you where the nearest salon is.