Oh Hair, Where Art Thou: The Chemo Hair Loss Journey

DSCN1967I sit here, three and a half months after the last poisonous infusion that scared my hair follicles into stupor, and I can still see my scalp through the little bit of hair that managed to grow back. What’s the holdup? I ask in my head rolling my eyes upwards as if the hair could answer me.

I was never completely bald and smooth headed like a knee. Instead, my skull looked like a newly born bird’s head peeking out of an egg…bald with a few sporadic hairs. I kept most of my eyebrows. Only about half my eyelashes fell out. However, probably at the cancer’s concession, my leg and armpit hair stopped growing completely.

I saved money on hair dressers, shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream and razors. Instead, I spent it on doctors, cancer scarves, fleece caps and organic make up. But I liked that at any point on any given day I could slide my palms over my legs and they felt perfectly shaven. I liked that there was no bad hair day. I liked that showers took far less time.

And then I stopped liking it. About a month after my last chemo when some follicles here and there decided to cooperate and sprout like a shy spring flower, I got impatient. I started yearning for the time when I would be able to lather up my legs and shave them again. I mused over the image of me feeling my hair between my fingers as I lather the conditioner through it. But my body was taking its sweet time.

About two months after the last chemo, I looked like a military recruit after the head shave. I briefly considered working out in the style of Demi Moore in GI Jane to complete the looks and possibly go out hatless, but, alas, after failing to do even one full real push-up, I lowered my expectations. I put on my leather jacket, imagined a ring in my nose and tried to assume the “fuck you” look Sinead O’Connor mastered so well. Fail again.

It is three and a half months after chemo now and I still don’t look quite normal. Even though the hair is about half an inch long, it is not thick enough to convey the image that I did this hairstyle on purpose. I am doomed to the miserable cancer scarves. God, I hate them. No matter how many compliments people give me, I know what I look like. I look like a person with cancer. I ooze sickness. I bleed frailty. I evoke sympathy.

But I also get away with shit. I get in people’s way in the store and they don’t say anything, they don’t even give me the look. I hopelessly hold my emptied hand cart at the cash register swiveling around looking for a place to put it and a helpful employee takes it from me. I ask for a specific item, and after doing a double take, the store clerk goes the extra mile to look for it. I get sushi made to order and with a smile. I get a seat in the subway. I can leave my shoes unshined and commit a fashion faux pas. It’s all good – I got a cancer scarf.

When I take it off at home, I dream of the day when I don’t have to wear them anymore. I think I want to make a bonfire and burn them all with a glorious laugh, watching them shrivel and blacken in the flames. But I know what’s really going to happen – I will stash them away in the closet, folded carefully in a stack and keep moving them from place to place until finally they’ll end up in one of those clothes drop-offs. Maybe that would be a more dignified disposal method. I don’t know. I still got at least a month or two to think about it.


  1. Hi there
    I’ve had cancer twice and have been through Chemo a hand full of times. My hair never grew back fully and I alway will have a surgical scar at the back of my head were hair will never grow. I used to wear lots of scarves and have long hair which I realised just made me look even more odd and conscious of my appearance. It was only recently that I built up the courage to cut the little hair I have short, show my wounds off and not care what other people think. To my amazement people are so understanding and I felt so empowered that I might even one day shave it all off. You are stronger than you think and accept the fact that cancer has made you into a different person, but different in a better way. You are now more of an inspiration for everyone around you and people that can see what you’ve gone through. I respect your decision to hide it all away, but don’t be afraid to let your natural beauty show everyone will respect you more for it.

    • Thank you for your kind words. I am sorry about your illness too. I read about your situation on your blog. I don’t hide in front of people close to me but in public I do because I don’t like the pity looks I get. I guess I get them with the scarf anyway. I will soon try to go out without a hat. It will be weird, I feel like a little boy. Much luck to you and thank you again for your nice comments! 🙂

      • I get what your on about, I use to feel like that until I realised that people are gonna look at me weirdly no matter what because I do look different now. But one thing I have learnt is that unless you accept yourself, people around you will never truly accept you, you will get the pity smile but never full acceptance. Stop caring what other people think, you are showing them that you are stronger then they are and don’t need to try and blend in. You are an inspiration to all of us and by loosing the cancer scarves you can be an inspiration to more.

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