Jo was devastated when she found out chemotherapy meant that she would lose her hair. She shares her tips on managing hair loss.

Jo after her hair loss

I was determined to get through my diagnosis

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2017 at the age of 39 after finding a lump in my left breast. The day I was diagnosed will be etched in my memory forever. I was scared but determined to get through my diagnosis.

I was told my treatment would be a lumpectomy, followed by chemotherapy, radiotherapy and tamoxifen for 10 years.

I didn’t want to stand out because of my breast cancer

Once I heard the word chemotherapy and found out that I was going to lose my hair, I knew there was only one thing for it. I decided that I would get myself a wig.

The thought of going out in public and my nearest and dearest seeing me without my hair... It just wasn’t going to happen. I didn’t want to stand out even more – breast cancer already made me feel so isolated.

I wanted to be able to blend in so that I didn’t look like I was undergoing any treatment. I chose two wigs with different lengths so that I had the freedom to choose my hairstyle depending on how I was feeling.

Losing my hair felt like I was losing my identity

Losing my hair felt like I was losing my femininity and my identity. I didn’t want to see it coming out in clumps, or to wake up and see my hair splayed out on my pillow no longer attached to my head. It would have been too distressing.

At the end of my first round of chemotherapy, I asked my husband to shave all my hair off. He left just 1cm of fuzz behind. It was scary, but my scalp felt less sensitive afterwards.

Saying ‘it will grow back’ felt tactless

A comment that I heard frequently when people learnt that I was having chemotherapy was, ‘It’s only hair, it will grow back!’

People may have meant well and may have thought that their little quip might lighten the situation, but that simple comment was completely inconsiderate, thoughtless and tactless. I loss count of the amount of times it was said to me.

In the end my response became, ‘Well, if it’s only hair, here is a set of clippers – cut your hair off. After all, it’s only hair, it will grow back!’

Strangely enough no one took me up on that offer and looked shocked that I had suggested such a thing. 

Jo when her hair started growing back

I would have never had the confidence to have short hair

I was born with naturally curly hair, so it came as no surprise to me that my newly sprouting hair came back extremely curly and completely grey. I was more shocked at the grey hair than the curls.

Before being diagnosed I would have never had the confidence to have very short hair, but I have enjoyed being able to experiment a little with different styles as it’s grown back.

I enjoyed the baby mohawk phase immensely and wore that style with pride. I was just so glad to have my hair back.

Jo’s top five tips for managing hair loss

1. Wear a sleep cap

Wear a sleep cap at night to keep your newly bald head warm and cosy. I bought some 100% cotton sleep caps and they worked a treat. I had various colours including a blue and white striped one that I used to joke made me look like a Smurf!

2. Choose a wig early on

If you decide to wear a wig, choose a wig while you’ve still got your own hair. Then you won’t feel pressured into buying a style you’re not comfortable with when you need one.

3. Wear a cap under your wig

If you choose to wear a wig, or even a headscarf, I would advise that you buy a cap to wear underneath to prevent your head from itching. I bought bamboo caps as I found the nylon tight-style ones too scratchy.

4. Use perfume-free shampoo

Start using a perfume-free shampoo once your head starts to sprout new hairs – the feeling of having hair to wash again is great!

5. Be confident in yourself

It's fun to experiment with different styles. Try something new and wear your style with pride. 

Versions of this blogpost appeared originally on Jo's blog, Jo's Journey.

Find information and tips on hair loss during breast cancer treatment.

Breast cancer and hair loss