A Cancer Fashionista Hair Loss Retrospective

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It was about 10:30pm on a typical (COVID) weeknight. Dinner was put away. Dishwasher humming. I kept saying to myself that I really should go and take my makeup off. All day long I kept getting this annoying notification on my laptop that my “disk was almost full.”  I decided to try to resolve it before another busy day kicks in and postponed by nightly skin care routined. I started with old photos because they always seem to create the biggest computer storage issues.

I stumbled upon a file called “Old Camera Uploads” and got this gut wrenching feeling in my stomach that I was about to unearth my lost files. My “X Files” moment, if you will. My hand was shaking as I clicked my mouse and, just like that, I was back in 2013. The year of my Triple Negative Breast Cancer breast cancer diagnosis and treatment…..and saying goodbye to all of my hair.

It took me back to a time of extreme fear, uncertainty and disbelief. To make matters worse, there was no handbook on how to navigate hair loss as a result of chemotherapy treatment. I thought, do I just shave it all off? Get a cute pixie cut first, then hit it with a razor? When and how do you shop for a wig?

I get asked a lot about what it was like losing my hair as it’s a scary thought for many women undergoing cancer treatment.  So, I decided to share the photos I unearthed, along with the steps I took to part ways with my hair and transition to wearing a wig.

STEP 1: THE INITIAL CUT

I chose to get a pixie cut about two weeks before my oncologist said my hair would start falling out. It was a scary moment, but guess what? I actually liked it!  My hairstylist Jackie Timpone of Mania Hair Studio and I were laughing so hard because it looked really cute.  She said to me, “why didn’t we ever try this before?!” This look reminded me of Demi Moore in “Ghost.”  (I love that movie).  About ten days or so after this cut, my hair finally did fall out. For me, this was a nice way to transition.

STEP 2: EXPERIMENTING WITH THE WIG

After the initial chop, my hairstylist and I played around with my wig and talked about different ways that we could style it and even cut it if I got bored. This whole experience wasn’t half as bad as I thought it would be. Sometimes thinking about this stuff is a lot worse.

I purchased my wig from Design By Flora in New Jersey. I wanted the most natural looking wig possible, so I opted for one with high quality human hair. I also wanted to be able to bring it somewhere to be cleaned periodically, as well as cut or styled if I wanted to switch things up.

When you begin shopping for a wig, there are some important factors to consider such as price, convenience, comfort, style, etc. I went to Design by Flora and Flora was able to show me different options to try on. Think of it like going shopping for an evening gown!  You may have to try on a few until find one that looks and feels right to you. It’s also a great idea to chat with your hairstylist, maybe there’s a style that you’d like to try. Losing your hair is far from fun, but experimenting with different looks can be.

Keep in mind that wigs can get pretty expensive. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that some health insurance providers actually offer coverage for hair prosthetics, so be sure to inquire with yours to see what your benefits are.

STEP 3: SHAVING IT OFF 

Once I had the wig situation under control, I needed to prepare to actually lose my hair (which is nearly impossible to do).  When my hair was falling out, my scalp become unbearably itchy, which happens to a lot of women undergoing cancer treatment.  I woke up early one morning and honestly could not stand the itchiness anymore. My hairstylist had instructed me to just buzz my pixie cut off when I was ready and I had reached that moment.  So, I walked into the bathroom and reached for the electric razor.

My daughter Erica was six at the time and had been running around saying she wanted to be a hairdresser, so when she heard me in the bathroom, she knocked on the door and asked what I was doing.  I told her I was going to shave my head and asked if she wanted to help Mommy.  She said “yaaaay” and we hopped into the bathtub in our PJs and I let her do it!  We both laughed so hard. It’s truly amazing how kids can take the sting out of such a scary moment.

Below is a photo of me a few months after I completed chemo. Lipstick, statement earrings and a bold lip!  I encourage you to play around with your favorite lip colors and don’t be shy about throwing on a pair of chandelier earrings.

STEP 4: WIGGING OUT 

After shaving my head, I decided to change up my look by wearing my wig. Having a good foundation for your wig is key, you don’t want it sliding off of your head. Flora provided me with a special headband that held the wig in place. I’d suggest purchasing two just to have one for backup. I’m not going to lie, trying on my wig for the first time was strange and scary but it was done with the wig designer in her shop. I just kept telling myself that this was temporary. An adjustment for sure, but I was pretty happy with the results and I eventually had fun styling it and experimenting with different styles by playing around with bobby pins and even hitting it with a curling iron for some bounce and volume.

My chemotherapy took place during the summer, so I had to get my wig washed every two weeks or so. I’d drop it off at the wig shop and pick it up the next day. Flora would wash and style it for me which was great! I loved when it was all fresh, clean and ready to go. When wasn’t wearing my wig, I kept it on a styrofoam head form held securely with pins in order to maintain the shape.

 

STEP 4: WRAPPING IT UP 

This photo was taken when Cancer Fashionista was just a sparkle in my eye. I was digging around online all the time, searching for ways to look as cute as possible during chemo. I discovered that wearing a simple cotton headband along with a scarf provided a hairline, and kept the scarf from sliding off of my head. I wrapped the scarf around my head, and tied it at the nape of my neck with a simple hair tie…just like making a “messy bun” with hair.

STEP 5:  POST HAIR LOSS 

It took a good two years for my hair to feel like mine again. It initially grew back very thick and curly, and honestly felt like someone else’s hair. Over time, it went back to the same texture and thickness that I originally had. Everyone has a different experience, I know some women go gray (which I think can be super fab) and some do have change in texture, color, etc. The good news is that it does grow back!  Below is a photo of me eight years post chemo.

I hope my archives help you as you navigate your way through your own hair loss experience. If you’d like to learn more about managing hair loss, check out my blog article “Everything you ever wanted to know about chemotherapy induced hair loss, but were afraid to ask!” And remember this….you’re not alone, and there’s no wrong way to do this. Do what feels right for you and I’m right here if you need me! Don’t be shy. Drop me a line anytime at melissa@cancerfashionista.com

Love you!

Xo

Melissa

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