After over two and a half years, as far as my hair is concerned, I am finally starting to look like ‘Anna’ again. It’s been so long and I never thought I’d feel like this again but here I am.
Before I start I just want to point out that this is my personal story, we are all different and are affected differently by life’s challenges. One thing I do know is that how cancer makes you feel is a very personal thing therefore this is in no way meant to be a ‘how you should be’ post. However I’ve had many conversations with many others as I am now a charity ambassador and active member of the cancer community so I feel I have a good understanding of this area. I would encourage anyone to comment at the end as I would love to hear from you with your thoughts.
For those of you out there who haven’t reached this stage yet please read my story with an open mind, I really want you to know that you too will feel this. I do remember how I felt all the way though and my thoughts, feelings and emotions have changed throughout. You will finally get back to feeling more like yourself again which for me has been a bit of a breakthrough after feeling lost for such a very long time. If I can, then you can…I have been on a roller coaster of a journey in many ways, my hair just one of them so please believe me when I say that I know how it really feels. I know how it feels to be told you look like a boy by your child, to feel like you don’t belong in your own skin, to see piles of your own hair in front of you as it comes out in clumps, to feel unfeminine and to feel like you shouldn’t feel upset about it because the drugs that caused it saved your life! I never thought that I’d ever feel comfortable with how I looked and to me that means that I am on the way to being whole again.
For so long during and after treatment my lack of hair meant the Leukaemia I was fighting was there, like a beacon in the form of my bald head. People immediately knew that I was a cancer patient which at first took at bit of getting used to. I wasn’t used to a lot of attention of any sort and now it was ‘all about me’, I felt awkward but not unhappy as people were only ever kind. I just wasn’t used to it and there were so many new things in my life at this time so I felt totally at odds with this new life.
Looking back at it now and how I dealt with losing my hair I realise that I just blocked out any ‘relationship’ I’d had with my hair in the past, it was something I deliberately didn’t look at or think about any more (if that makes sense). People would ask if I was planning to grow it really long again and it was a question I couldn’t answer because I never thought that far ahead, as far as I was concerned hair had stopped being a thing I had any control over, I had no idea if it would come back the same or how long it would take so I decided it wasn’t important. Weeks would go by when every day I would just style it exactly the same, little choice in that, until every now and then I’d hit a little milestone.
When you are walking down the street and glance at passers-by it’s one of the things you notice about a person as well as what they are wearing and their demeanour. It’s human nature to make a snap judgement on someone’s appearance whether we want to or not. So when I was out in public there was a look strangers would give me. This is why when some have said that hair isn’t important I don’t agree because but I have lived without it and it was to me. One lady told me that she had been mistaken as a man several times so try and tell her that it isn’t important.
I had used my hair to express myself, my mood and it gave me confidence. For me styling it was a bit like creating a ‘picture’ of myself, how I wanted others to see me depending on how I was feeling. So you see when in all fell out I lost my identity and part of my personality. As I found out there is a lot more to it, this hair loss journey then you realise, things that you’d never imagine until you’ve lived it.
Once I’d finished treatment and ventured back into the outside world people wouldn’t recognise me which had a negative effect on my confidence, having to stop them and say ‘hello, its Anna…do you remember?’ and this was people I’d seen pretty much every day before diagnosis. I would hold my breath waiting for them to either acknowledge or deny, irrational I know but that was how it was. Something that never even crossed my mind before I lost my hair, that it would change the way you look so much that even in your home town people don’t recognise you. My confidence suffered in many ways, this was one aspect of it.
In the beginning I would make much more of an effort with my make up to compensate for my lack of hair, wearing brighter lipsticks and I had more piercings in my ears too. This was probably a way of trying to boost my non existent self esteem.
Another unsettling thing was seeing myself in the mirror and seeing a stranger, no matter how long I stared at my reflection I just couldn’t see myself. It is only now, after two and a half years, that I now recognise myself again, physically I am starting to look like I used to. My hair is shoulder length now so I’ve been using the hair accessories again that I’d packed away months ago. At one point I did consider throwing them away because I just couldn’t imagine ever having hair again, there are a lot of irrational thoughts flying around when you’re fighting leukaemia.
My Hair loss ~ my thoughts
I am lucky enough to have a hairdresser who I’ve known for many, many years and I felt totally comfortable with her seeing me when I was at my most self conscious. Early on, when I was first hospitalised she came over to the hospital to cut my long hair off before it all fell out, making it a lot less traumatic and easier to deal with. I would 100% recommend this if you have long hair, it really helped me. A few weeks later she’d been to my house once it had all fallen out to shave the few remaining wisps off.
All the way through my hair regrowth journey she’s given me honest advice on how to style it and how she should cut it so that it grew back well. When hair first comes back after chemo its very damaged so she advised me to keep it short yet stylish until the healthier hair came through. She gave me a stylish cut even when there wasn’t much hair to work with! Then there was the colour…unable to colour it for a long time because of the chemotherapy when the time finally came I was really happy with the result. Because she has vast experience and knew me and my history so well it really helped make the right decision on what to try. I’ve had so many compliments on my hair colour and all the different cuts over the past 24 months.
There are many, many milestones when you are recovering, these are the ones I remember about my hair; the first time I could get a pretty little clip in it, after trying several times over several weeks, the first time it needed a trim, the first ponytail I managed even though lots of hair fell out, the first time I used my hairdryer again, the first time I felt the wind blow it, the first time I could wrap a towel around it, the first time I could play hairdressers again with the 8 year old, the first time I felt it tickle my cheeks when it got long enough, the first time I had it coloured, all little things but for me moments that marked my progress.
Where I thought I’d never be
I never ever thought I’d look or feel anywhere near the old me again but here I am just over two years since finishing my treatment with hair…something we take for granted until its gone, something we’d like to think we don’t really care that much about, until its gone, something you don’t think defines you, until its gone…
I wanted to share how this has been for me, openly and honestly so that any other women or men out there experiencing hair loss can hopefully find something similar to what they’re experiencing.
Thank you for reading and again I’d love to hear from you if you’ve been in a similar position to me for whatever reason. I hope in some way reading this has helped.