By Kerry Kelly
The loss of my hair was an extremely challenging part of my breast cancer journey. I had a thick head of beautiful brown hair that was down to my mid-back. I wasn’t even 7 months postpartum when I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer at 29 years old. Knowing that I would lose my hair was just another emotional stake to my heart during my treatment. Though the entire process was difficult, there were a few things I did that I believe lightened the blow of losing my hair.
1. Take control.
Unfortunately, the hair will fall out. I took control of this fact and did it all on my own terms. I chopped my hair in my own time, donated it, and shaved my head before I experienced much fallout. I took control of the experience and shaped it into something I was doing, rather than something that was happening to me. This gave me a sense of power that helped my mental state as I traveled through the unknown waters of cancer treatment.
I have always had extremely long hair. I cut it “short” after my wedding (cut 4 inches off), but grew it back right away. When I found out I would be losing my hair due to chemo, I knew I needed to donate it. I researched to find a nonprofit that I would donate to and printed the requirements for my appointment. I donated over 12 inches of my beautiful hair, and I imagine that it made someone happy. I was so emotional when I received my certificate of donation, but knew that my pain would be someone else’s joy.
3. Do something you would never normally do.
I knew I wanted to cut my hair short to lighten the blow of it falling out entirely. I wanted a haircut to make me feel like the warrior I would need to be to get through treatment. My hairstylist gave me a spunky short cut with the back and left side shaved. The side shaved was something that was a cool style that I would have NEVER done normally. This gave me the unique opportunity to try something new (for a few weeks anyways). I got a ton of compliments on it, and really enjoyed experimenting with a different look.
4. Call on your support system.
When I told my hairstylist about my diagnosis and asked her to cut my hair for donation, we both knew it would be an emotional cut. As I entered the salon, I held back tears. We laughed as we planned out my spunky new cut. When the time came, we both cried. This was a moment of pain, but also a moment of beauty as two people bonded over a painful experience. When the time came to shave my head, my husband was the one for the job. He pulled out a chair, the buzzer, and a Pacifico. He went first, and I could barely see through my tears to buzz his head. Somehow, buzzing his head too made me feel better in the moment. As my turn came, he whispered sweet words to me. He talked to me about the next 30 years of our lives and how excited he was to live it with me. I cried through the entire thing, but was so appreciative of his kindness. Through the pain, a spotlight was set on the overwhelming amount of love that I have in my life, and how incredibly lucky I really am.
5. Be prepared with a wig or hat that you’re comfortable in
Before my hair loss, I was terrified of the idea of being without hair. I had a wig fitting before beginning chemo so I could have the wig as soon as my hair fell out. This gave me peace of mind that I had a backup. I dyed and styled the wig to look like my hair. I also bought several caps and beanies since it was winter and I knew my head would be cold. My experience with the wig was complicated. I wore it 4-5 times, and felt like I was being untrue to myself when I had it on. Due to the timing, the world was stuck inside due to COVID-19, so I did not have the social pressure to be seen in public during this time. I was much more comfortable in my soft beanies and thin slouchy hats. After the fact, I realize that the wig was an emotional crutch for me. I needed it because I felt safety around having a backup. That safety feeling helped me emotionally cope with other decisions that were being made around my treatment.
Though the hair loss was just one aspect of loss that I experienced during my treatment, it was an emotional hurdle for me. There is no right or wrong way to go about it, so I did my best to take control of the things I could control and let go of the things I couldn’t. Each part of treatment presented new challenges, so I kept fighting. My hair has grown back to the point that I no longer need a hat. After getting through treatment, I have transformed into someone who is not defined by her hair. I am so much stronger and more courageous than the woman I was last year, and I choose to see the beauty in that.