A Lust For Life

No hair, do care: a personal view on hair loss during breast cancer treatment

Tackling Breast Cancer treatment, the approach by which we face it is so very individual. When described, many use the ‘fight’ word which is true in many ways but for me, it’s more about the determination to retain some sense of self throughout this dreadful prolonged wave of chemotherapy, of Cancer treatment.

The depths to which it steals you; your life as you know it, your routine, your energy, your work, your home life reveals itself slowly throughout the long treatment plan. It’s a year out of your life they say – a year, to give you years. Let’s hope so.

As I hang on desperately to my inner grit and determination to retain this sense of self, to keep going, day after day, above and beyond all of the pain, physical and mental, the effects on my family and close friends, on me, the hardest part is without doubt, losing my hair; the personification for me of my identity.

The person I have known for 38 years no longer looks back at me in the mirror, when I can dare to look. As the months and chemotherapy regimes go on, the cruelty intensifies. From the hair on my head, now replaced by a multitude of hats to the hair on my face, the precious, defining eyebrows and eyelashes, the loss of which deeply sadden me and challenge this determination to face forwards with more defiance than I have ever known.

Cancer came as a shock, bolting into our busy, full, healthy lives out of the blue. The de-feminising effects of Breast Cancer is something I have learnt more about at each stage of treatment, first came the surgery, the removal of part of my breast, changing how I see that part of me forever, then the ultimate dread, the impending loss of my hair, my identity leading to the introduction of a new version of me, one I am finding hard to accept, the bald Aoife. Certainly not someone I ever envisioned having to live as. In order to cope, I had to grasp at the little control I had left and so it began…

The dreaded deed was done. I slayed the dragon, the de-feminising, (temporary) killer of my beautiful, curly auburn hair. I did the unthinkable and had my head shaved. They were right, the dragon tamers; once the hair starts falling out as clumps in each hand and appearing in the sink every time you use it, something inside whispers softly at first, then talks loudly until you listen: The time has come.

The time to stop frantically threading the water, to give up that particular unconquerable fight, and float, with the love and support of those around you… to the top.

It is true, that it is what’s inside that counts: the soul, the spirit, the fight that rises from deep inside when the aftershock of the Cancer diagnosis, introduction of the treatment plan and rough regime hits.

My mind has yet to catch up with my body. Doctors and nurses are treating the physical side with a speed and ferociousness I have rarely seen – it’s that tick box again – ‘young’, fit, healthy, two small children. My mind is struggling to keep up with the changes, it’s hard enough managing all of the side effects of this AC Chemotherapy, of which there are many, but to comprehend losing my hair is a step too far. It’s the aggression of it; the blatant robbing of the personification of my identity. Taken with certainty and arrogance without even the grace of offering a pardon…for the hair…just for the hair. I can sacrifice the rest but not the hair.

Or so I thought.

Recently, I surrendered and said, “Okay let’s do it, let’s slay the dreaded final King of the Chemo Dragons.” Luckily I have a shining star to do it for me, at home, with the love of my life by my side. After joking about having a quality hoover to ‘clean it up after the shave,’ he respectfully left the mound of hair on the kitchen floor until our little lady of four wise years came home, promptly retrieved the brush and without warning or announcement, swept my hair into the dust pan, presenting it proudly to us in the TV room, Ready for the bin! Right where it should have resided all day long.

Apart from not having the courage to look in the mirror or walk outside the door, I was mostly worried about how my husband would look at me, not what he would verbalise, but the words I would read from his eyes. I know those eyes well. That was my Queen of worries: how could he still love me with a shaved or bald head?

Of course, he does. His eyes spoke softly with love, pride and kindness, as always. To my utter surprise, after the hair dragon was slain, and despite my young son vocally rejecting me after the short transition ‘do,’ he surprised all of us by saying, ‘To be fair, you actually look beautiful. I can see your eyes.’

Hearing that made my sad face break into the biggest smile, one that reached my eyes, which in turn made them smile and my heart sing with love, relief and with fight. The Goodies got a super boost to help fight another day.