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It was almost as if I knew I was going to get cancer and go bald.
Exactly a year ago travelling around Argentina I suddenly found myself buying eight pairs of huge, brightly coloured earrings in the space of three days. I’m not sure exactly what sparked the jewellery spree but a year later, as trivial as it sounds, I’m glad it happened because those earrings have become an important part of helping me regain my femininity after breast cancer.
Battling the bald look with big earrings
You see, when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer and realised I was going to lose my hair, for some reason I imagined it would be a temporary thing. And when I say temporary I mean really temporary. Without really thinking about it I somehow imagined my hair would start growing back as soon as I lost it. I hadn’t realised I would remain bald for the entire five months of chemotherapy and a further few months after that, and that it would be a full year before I really had a good head of hair to show for myself. (I’m still waiting for that to happen.)
During those long months of chemo I saw a great photo of a model in a magazine ad campaign. The girl had a perfectly small round shaved head and wore big hoop earrings and a leather jacket. She looked the epitome of cool. I decided I would have to look like that when my hair started growing back.
But what the non-cancer-initiated don’t realise is that your hair doesn’t grow back all perfect and sexy after chemo – far from it! There are a lot of things you may not realise about hair regrowth after cancer until it happens:
Your barnet grows back unevenly, at varying speeds. The hair on the crown is often the last bit to grow so you may, like me, look like you have a hugely receding hairline for a couple of months with random sprouts of dark hair at the back and sides.
Your hair can grow back an entirely different colour. Your perfectly beautiful brunette mop might grow back grey and vice versa. It’s not uncommon to become a redhead after chemo when you were a brunette before. One friend’s grandfather even regained a full head of dark hair having been entirely grey before chemo – talk about silver linings!
Your hair can grow back curly if it was once straight and vice versa. Certainly not the easiest way to get a new hair do!
But the important thing is that most people’s hair doesn’t grow back as they would like it to. As much as I’d love to have grown Cheryl Cole’s luscious mane overnight (yes, I’m aware she has hair extensions) it was sadly not the case.
Furthermore it is often right at the very end of chemotherapy that we lose the bulk of our eyelashes and eyebrows. So just when the treatment is all over and everyone expects us to start looking more ‘healthy’, we actually start looking more like a cancer patient than ever.
For me the month of January, five weeks after my final chemo and well into my radiotherapy, was the moment my confidence plummeted. I had managed to keep my eyebrows and eyelashes throughout chemo only to lose them all just as I was about to go back to work. People expected me to look good but underneath the make-up I was hairless and looked quite frankly like a cancer patient.
Me today before and after make-up
For the first month of 2013 I wore a different wig to work every day. My colleagues thought it was great when I showcased Brandi, Valerie, Samantha and Joana around the office. But the wigs were hot and uncomfortable and I feared I was slowing my hair growth by covering my scalp all day long.
So on 4 February I ditched the wigs. It took me two days to pluck up the courage to stop wearing my red woolly beanie hat (also hot and itchy) around the office, but eventually I unveiled my naked scalp with my uneven sprouting hairs and bald crown, and skulked self-consciously around the office avoiding people’s gaze. Braving my head was terrifying – I felt like I was walking around in a bikini or naked – but it was also liberating. I was finally just being ‘me’.
Three steps to braving the bald look: wig, hat… me
That was a month ago and my hair has been growing beautifully ever since. I’m still self-conscious but with the help of my big Argentine earrings and lashings and lashings of eyeliner I’m growing more confident with my new baby hair by the day. I would even go as far as to say I love my new hair. Without cancer I never could have appreciated something so simple as a centimetre of hair growth, but it’s a thing of beauty to me now – a silky soft layer around my head that I can’t stop touching to make sure it’s still there. They do say you appreciate the simple things a lot more after cancer.
Losing your hair can feel a lot like losing your femininity – especially when you lose your breasts, periods and fertility too. But with the help of my trusty earrings, my eyeliner and eyebrow make-up I can go back to being just ‘me’. Another battle won against the big scary ‘C’.
The Wig Graveyard: from left to right, Samantha, Joana, Valerie, Candy Pink, Brandi
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