Being a Mum and Losing Hair Because of Chemo

It’s the ultimate of bad hair days.

Looking in the mirror and seeing hair disappearing or nothing at all.

Receiving treatment last week.

Thankfully not all chemotherapy these days result in hair loss. However for those of us who are unfortunate to be receiving a treatment with this side effect, hair loss can be heartbreaking. Yesterday I went to put on my eye make up and realised that I no longer have eye lashes. After that first realisation, it’s all I could see when I looked in a mirror the rest of the day! My eyebrows have been thinning over the last week or two. I think I need a refresher on how to use a brow pencil. I tried filling them in this week and one of my kids asked why my eyebrows looked weird! (Nothing like children to keep it real!) There’s barely any hair left on my head and over the rest of my body. This is my second chemotherapy treatment. I also lost my hair back in 2017.

My skin feels super, super smooth everywhere. Hair does add a texture to your skin and when there are no longer follicles that are even growing a new layer of hair, it feels so different. I think my skin feels as smooth as glass, only softer. One of things that amazed me both times that I’ve lost my hair is how much you don’t pay attention of where there is hair on your body until it is gone. For instance, hair on the back of my neck! For some reason I always notice in photos that my neck somehow looks different once I’ve experienced hair loss. There’s also a missing sensory feeling when you are alarmed or nervous with no hair prickling on the back of your neck! It’s odd the different things a person will notice. I don’t know if others have experienced this, but it’s just something that stood out to me!

When I sat down to write this today, (my kids are having a sleepover at their grandmothers so I’m taking advantage of the quiet house!), I discovered that I had started writing a few months ago when my hair began falling out. I’ll include some of those thoughts fresh from the experience:

Three weeks ago I had the first course in my current chemotherapy regime. It took three days, then there is a three week “break” and then this week I will begin another three days.

Last Sunday I was washing my hair and I noticed that I lost more hair than the usual amount that your hair naturally sheds. It wasn’t huge, but because this has happened before, I knew that this was the start and I also knew that within the week most of my hair would be gone. I knew I would probably have a tough week. The first time my hair fell out, I was not expecting to be as emotional as I was. I thought I would be sad, but I didn’t realise that sadness would make everything more intense and that at the drop of a hat my emotions would bubble over. It turns out, that it was still highly emotional having hair fall out a second time!

As a mother, the first time it happened, I found it really hard dealing with the children because I was so emotional I just had no more energy left to deal with all the typical issues that accompany children. Children don’t tiptoe around you with a heightened sense of cautiousness when Mum has cancer. They resume living, and having all the same issues that children have. They still fight, they still lose things, they still don’t want to clean up and they still have character that is developing. Plus, they are more emotional themselves, because it’s unsettling for them also when Mum has cancer. I wasn’t prepared that having my hair fall out would be highly emotional for the children as well. To them, when my hair fell out, the outward appearance changed, I no longer looked like their Mum, even though I still sounded like her and acted like her.

When I found out I was going to do chemo for a second time, it was the first thing the kids asked, “Will your hair fall out again?”. The reply that my hair was going to fall out brought on more tears from the children then hearing a few moments before about the doctor’s prognosis about the growth of the cancer. (Sidenote, being open and honest with our kids while not oversharing has really helped us to process the journey as a family and has helped the children to freely ask any questions they need to which has lead to some excellent examples of resilience from all five of the kids.)

With my darling one year old niece! She now can claim she has more hair than her aunty!

I try to respect that the hair loss is really hard for the children and make it a bit easier for them. One way I do this is by wearing something on my head most of the time even when I’m at home. At the moment it is Summer in Australia and it has been hot! I would much rather be walking around the house without anything on my head, but it’s a small little thing that I felt like I can do. I’ve talked to another Mum and she said that even though her kids hated seeing her bald they just got used to it. I think it’s all up to individuals how we handle it. For me, there’s one child in particular who really can’t handle seeing me bald. Sometimes at the end of the day I might rip of my scarf for a little bit of fresh air, and four of them are getting a bit more used to it, but this one child really can’t handle it at all. He can’t look at me, his eyes stay averted and he gets fidgetty and can’t concentrate on what he’s saying. Last time he used to beg me to put it back on, this time he’s a bit older and more sensitive, but even still, I can see it’s uncomfortable, so it really is a very small thing for me to just keep my head covered.

Most of the time around the house I wear a square cotton bandanna folded in a triangle, it’s the coolest option I’ve found. I really dislike wearing anything that is synthetic on my head, so even though I have some head gear that is lighter and thinner, if it’s not a natural fabric it just doesn’t do it for me. The bandannas actually belong to Toby and Jayden, (it isn’t that easy finding a square scarf that’s not too big and not to small as it turns out!) they were given to them from a Filipino friend, so they have loved loaning them to me .

Realising your eyelashes are missing is nowhere near as hard as those initial days when my the hair on my head fell out. For me it happened over the course of a week. Every time I ran my hands through my hair I would be left with a handful of hair. It didn’t work if I just had self control I stopped touching my hair. That was actually worse because the hair would keep falling out but it would be one big knotted tangled mass and to get it untangled I would end up with a large ball of hair in my hands. So I found the best method was to keep running my hands through my hair and putting hair in the bin. It really is a bit depressing to look into the bin and see it full of long hair. The first time I had my head clippered once I started getting bald patches. This time I didn’t seem to have as many patches of baldness. Even though my hair kept getting thinner and thinner it meant so much to the kids that I still had any hair. They liked it much better when there was bit of hair left out while I was wearing a cap. By the end I was tying up the most pathetic little ponytail ever with toddler hair bands! Once it got to the stage where the pony tail was too small I cut my hair short and a few little bits just poked out here and there. I liked this better than the first time when I clippered everything off. (Sidenote: Both times there has been a small bit of hair that remained. Last time it was just little fuzz, now it’s just a few strands of hair.) This time it was nice having a little bit of a fringe for longer, it made me feel a bit more normal. There was nothing normal when I took my hat off, the tiny bits of hair that I had looks crazy sticking up everywhere!

I generally don’t like wearing a wig. It’s hotter and scratchy. Last time I started getting good at tying scarves, but I was having treatment in the winter and spring when the temperature is cooler. This time I couldn’t be bothered. My favourite headwear (apart from my home bandanas!) are pre-fashioned bamboo turbans. They are so comfortable, stylish easy to throw on and the bamboo is cooler in the hot weather and warmer if it’s colder.

I’ve deliberated whether I add a bald picture to this post. I know before I lost my hair the first time I went googling what cancer patients looked like to know what to expect. I’m really grateful to those ladies for sharing their pictures. I’m glad they felt comfortable to do this. I’m not going to share pictures, so if you are someone who is bald and don’t want people to see you what you look like without hair, that’s OK too. It’s OK to acknowledge what you do or don’t feel comfortable doing and not feel like you need to do something just because others have done it. I am very comfortable with my body and I love my body, but I’m aware of some of its flaws or bits I don’t like and I cover them accordingly. When I get dressed, I dress in a way that I feel most flatters my body and makes me comfortable and I cover the flaws accordingly. I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking a photo in my underwear just to prove to everyone that I have a wobbly tummy and a saggy bottom. In this Instagram world, sometimes there’s a pressure to expose all in order to be raw and honest. I think women need to know their boundaries and not feel the pressure to show more than what they are comfortable with. For me, my words are where I choose to expose feelings with rawness and honesty.

I love this picture because I am catching up with a dear friend from high school. However, I don’t like the fact that my turban has crept up above my ear! This is my equivalent to a “bad hair day” photo at the moment!

When I look in the mirror, I love me, but I don’t like being bald. There are some women who, even though they prefer to have hair, still look amazing without hair. Then there’s certain shaped faces that really do look better with something on their head. I’ve been around a few women now who have no hair and cancer, while they are all beautiful, some really do look better than others when bald. It’s kind of like the difference between some women looking good in a bikini and others look better in a one piece. I just don’t look good bald. I know if I posted a picture there would be many people rushing to reassure me that I look beautiful. It wouldn’t matter to me, when I look in the mirror, I don’t hate me, but I don’t feel beautiful until I put some headgear on. No wonder why my kids prefer seeing me with something on my head, so do I!

So a last photo to leave you with because it was so fun I can’t leave it out! Yesterday my hubby and I went on one of our most exciting dates ever! We flew in a helicopter over Brisbane to Sirromet Wines where we had lunch together before flying away. At some point during lunch I had a few tears when I was saying how frustrated I am that I can’t work anymore because want to earn some money for a few pieces of furniture we need in the house. It’s nothing urgent, but it’s just frustrating that cancer has for the moment stopped me doing a job I love and the pocket money always felt good that I was helping contribute. Anyway, those tears washed away my eye make-up so my unlashed eyes were on full display for the world to notice! I’m fairly certain that no one really noticed my missing eyelashes! It was so delightful to spend some time together without children and just enjoy one another, plan for the future (like Alex assuring me that we’ll work out the furniture issues, haha!) and acknowledge some of the uncertainties. It was a great way to belatedly celebrate our 23rd wedding anniversary¬†hair loss and all!

A helicopter flight!

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