The Many Phases of Chemo Hair Loss

When we met with the specialist in August, he recommended I start chemo right away. Then he said, "Three weeks after you start chemo, all your hair will fall out." (He's not one for sugar-coating.) So, as I sat in his office trying to process all the information about the tumors, my diagnosis, the treatment options, and the "non-curative"-ness of what I have, I also attempted to wrap my mind around the fact that within a few short weeks I would be completely bald.

Granted, in the grand scheme of things, losing my hair is a minor issue. I mean...it's just hair, right? It will grow back. But combined with everything else, it was a difficult pill to swallow.

As I mentioned last time , I've always had thick, naturally curly hair. While I have often longed for straighter, "simpler" hair, my hair is the outward feature people comment on most: "Oh, I wish I had naturally curly hair." (Trust me...it's not all that glamorous.) "I bet you don't have to do anything to your hair!" (Yes, if you consider applying a mountain of product to tame the beast "not doing anything," then sure.)

Hair collage

To make matters worse, after a 35-year battle, I had finally tossed the straighteners and flat iron and embraced my God-given curls. I even began to like them... a little. And I was just waiting for 80s hair to come back, because let me tell you, this girl can rock some big-hair-band hair (see middle picture above)!

The Many Phases of Chemo Hair Loss | thereisgrace.com

I didn't really intend to approach my hair loss in phases, but that's how it happened. And I think it made the whole process a little more bearable.

Hair-4Phase 1: Short
Going into my first treatment, I still wasn't sure what to do about my hair...face it head on and shave it all, or wait for the inevitable to happen? I had read that short hair is easier to manage as it begins to fall out, and that seemed like a logical first step. A good friend who is a stylist by trade came over one evening and gave me this cute new 'do! I loved it so much I was sad I hadn't done it months ago! (Thank you, Sheila!)

Phase 2: Thinning
True to my doctor's prediction, my hair started thinning a couple of weeks after my first treatment. Just a few strands at first, and I thought it would be a slow transition...maybe I wouldn't lose my hair at all. (I had heard of that happening.) It continued that way for several days. Then, suddenly it started coming out in clumps...HUGE clumps! It happened so quickly, I wasn't prepared to take the next step yet. Thankfully, I had plenty of hats to wear!

Phase 3: The Razor
The thinning phase didn't last long. Now I had reached the point I'd been dreading. I really wrestled with the timing of when to shave my hair. I wasn't worried about "looking different" or not having hair. I struggled with the fact that everyone would know what I was going through. I couldn't go to the store, or out to dinner, and pretend like nothing was wrong. Once my hair was gone, everyone who saw me would know I have cancer.

But I finally reached the point where I grew weary of sweeping the bathroom floor and vacuuming my shirt multiple times a day. I knew what I needed to do.

L: baldy, R: my look for the first time I went out without hair

My friend again came over and shaved what was left of my hair. Once it was done, I was fine. I could move forward and start thinking about how to work in all those fabulous accessories I had been collecting.

scarf2-aPhase 4: Scarves and Wraps
I quickly discovered that without any hair on one's head (or neck), one tends to get very cold...especially when one lives in Missouri...in October. For that reason, I prefer to wear hats that came down farther on my head. I also started wearing more scarves (around my neck or on my head) and head wraps.

My absolute favorite head covering for warmth and comfort is this inexpensive method (Seriously, if you know someone going through chemo, forward this video to her. It will change her life!):

Phase 5: Cranial Prosthesis
Yep, that is what it's called (especially if you get a prescription from your doc, which you might want to do for insurance purposes...just sayin'). I wasn't sure I wanted to get one (a.k.a. "a wig") because I had heard they are incredibly uncomfortable and unnatural. But on a whim a couple of weeks ago, Hubby and I stopped in a wig shop specifically for cancer patients. I decided to have fun with it, because honestly how many times in your life do you get the opportunity to try so many hair colors and styles at one time?

wig5aI finally tried on a cute little pixie cut that my husband swore was very natural-looking. It is eerily close to my original hair color, although not a style I would have ever chosen for my own hair. Still, I liked it. It's fun. It's cute. It's warm.

And bonus...I it looks great with a cute scarf tied around it!

So, if you see me out and about, chances are you will see me in a hat, a wrap, or my cranial prosthetic. 😉 Pretty sure you won't catch me walking around in my bald head, though...it's just too cold for that!

hope-cancer-250This post is part of the series, Embracing Hope. In the coming weeks, we'll look at why we can put our hope in God, how we put our hope in God, and what we can do when it feels all hope is lost. Won't you come along for the journey? Consider subscribing via e-mail so you can receive new posts delivered directly to your inbox! Simply enter your e-mail address in the box to the right. To view the entire series, click here.

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Plus: Read the full story of my journey through cancer to healing in Unshakable: Finding Faith to Weather the Storm. Available now at Amazon.

36 thoughts on “The Many Phases of Chemo Hair Loss

  1. When I saw you the other day I REALLY thought that your hair had grown back quickly (so your hubby was right about it looking natural). You look absolutely beautiful no matter which hairstyle you're rockin'! 🙂 <3
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    1. Post author

      Thank you so much, Tanya. I can say I'm not always a pillar of strength, but it helps so much to have friends to lean on when my strength falters! Thank you for your kind words.

      Reply
  2. Kristen Feola

    Nancy, you look gorgeous! I LOVE the pixie. 🙂 Thank you for this post. I'm forwarding it to my aunt, who started her second round of chemo today. You are strong and brave in The Lord, and I know God is using your honesty and transparency to help others.

    Reply
    1. Post author

      Laurie, it's so sweet of you to say...thank you! We appreciate all the prayers, too. Thank you for following my journey. Kiss little Emily for me if you see her over the holidays!

      Reply
  3. KateB

    Fantastic, Nancy. You look lovely before, during, and soon to be after. Thanks for sharing. I will forward this to my friend for the video.

    Reply
  4. Hi Nancy! I had no idea what kind of planning goes into realizing that you will lose your hair. Sounds like you had just the right people, at just the right time to help you too.

    I love the short 'do' myself, but I like a good short cut. Will your hair grow back soon? Are you getting used to the 'cranial prosthesis' (Lord have mercy, insurance companies are INSANE.)

    Know that you are in my prayers.
    Ceil

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  6. Gemma

    thank you for your post. I'm sitting in my second stage of chemo for Hodgkin's Lympomia right now. I guess I did phase one yesterday. Went from long curly hair to short curly hair. I like it and should have also done it before. 🙂 your post has given me an idea as to what to expect. Thanks. I'm not looking forward to it, optimistic it might not happen, but prepared. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Post author

      Oh, Gemma! Hugs and blessings to you, dear! I'm so thankful my journey has helped you. I will be praying for you in your journey and on to your recovery! As my oncology nurse always told me, "Ain't no mountain for a climber!" 🙂 ~Nancy

      Reply
  7. Melissa

    I have been recently been diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma and will be starting chemo in the next couple of days. My hair is just like yours was before you lost it. I have three young daughters and my biggest fear about losing my hair is exactly as you talked about...now there's no hiding it from anyone that I'm sick. I want to be able to just be my girls' mom at the park or library, not the sick, bald lady. Your words have given me hope and encouragement that I can embrace this upcoming chapter of my life. I may be sick but I don't have to let it be all that I am. Thank you for that!

    Reply
  8. Nancy, I just read your article. Thank you so much. I, too, went through the stages of hair loss. I cut my hair short before starting chemo. I also ran out and bought a wig but ended up wearing it only a handful of times. My hair fell out 2 weeks to the day of starting chemo. I remember pulling out clumps at a time. I went for the buzz cut and my husband shaved his head too.

    Reply
  9. Iris

    Nancy...I just came across your article through Pinterest. I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I had my first chemo treatment 12 days ago! I also cut my long hair into a pixie cut, with the rationale that it would be easier on me to lose short hair than all the long hair that would probably totally clog my shower! I keep waiting for it to come out, but so far, so good! I've already collected several scarves, hats, beanies...but I don't think I can do the wig, even though it's October here in Georgia! I have one question...I've been told I'm going to lose ALL my hair everywhere! Did you not lose your eyebrows? Just curious.....Thanks!

    Reply
  10. Lisa

    Hello- your blog could have been mine! I had super curly long hair myself. I am dealing with the fact that everyone knows about my battle. It was so much easier to fake- it with hair. You handled it with grace- I hope I can too!

    Reply
  11. Terry

    I'm 33 and starting chemo in 2 weeks and this is the part I am really struggling with. I am buying and ordering everything I could possibly need but I still don't feel prepared. I feel like I can deal with everything but losing my hair anf actually having people know I'm sick just breaks my heart to no end. Thanks for read- It helps to know how fast the process goes and what really happens- I appreciate it. Hope you are doing well.

    Reply
    1. Post author

      Terry, I'm so sorry to hear you have to go through this journey. I will be praying for you. Yes, cancer is big and scary, but GOD IS BIGGER and He promises to be with you every step of the way! ~Blessings, Nancy

      "I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I WILL NOT BE SHAKEN!" ~Psalm 16:8

      Reply
  12. Nancy

    My name is Nancy too and I pretty much did everything the same as you. Actually I bought a wig then came home and cut my hair very short. It's still coming out but mostly gone. I just had my second chemo two days ago.

    Reply
  13. Jamie

    You have stated my struggle so well. It wasn't being bald that bothered me. It was that people would know what I am going through. We've had three stillbirths after 35 weeks in the past five years and I could feel normal in a crowd because no one knew. Cancer is something I cannot hide and it bothers me more than I ever thought it would.

    Reply

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