Three Tips for Chemo Hair Loss

Amy Luscher Smith   •   March 5, 2019

hair loss photo

I was in line at a men’s clothing store waiting to pay for dress pants and jeans for my son Ben. I was enjoying being with Ben and watching him actually want to try on nice clothes, a change from his normal cargo shorts, hoodie sweatshirt, and flip-flop sandals.

“Mom.” Ben touched my shoulder from behind. “Mom,” he whispered, “do you know that you’re bald in the back?”

My heart stuttered at the gentle touch of his hand, the whisper of his new grown-man voice, and his words. At 14, he was already so tall that he liked to tuck me under his arm when he came in for a bear hug.

I touched the back of my head with one hand and pulled out a thatch of hair. I brushed the tears quickly from my eyes, stepped to the counter and paid for his clothes. Rising panic nipped at my insides and made me work quickly to just get out of that store. I felt exposed. Like all eyes were on me. Cancer girl.

Ben put his bags in the trunk of the SUV and got into the passenger seat. I was sitting in the driver’s seat, ready to race home and hide.

“I think you should shave it.” Ben spoke softly, as if to a small child.

I swallowed past the knot in my throat. “Yes,” I said. “Okay.”

I called my cousin, Sandi, a hair stylist, and asked if I could come by on our way home. “I’ll be there in 30 minutes,” I said into the phone. “I need you to shave it off.”

Thirty minutes later, I’m sitting in the chair in her hair salon, giggling through the tears as she shaves my head with the electric razor, giving me a mohawk before shaving the rest of the hair off my head.

How do you handle the loss of your hair when you’re on chemotherapy? That’s a pretty personal question. Here are my three best pieces of advice.

#1: Decide early how you want to lose your hair

Based on the type of chemotherapy that is part of your treatment plan, you will know whether hair loss is a side effect. You’ll also learn from your oncology team and other cancer patients about when to expect your hair loss. For many, it’s between days 14 and 17 of a treatment. Give some thought to how you want to lose your hair. Will you wait for it to fall out? Will you cut it short in anticipation? Will you shave it?

#2: Create a plan that you control

Once you decide how you want to lose your hair, make a plan. Schedule hair appointments in conjunction with your treatment schedule and timing for hair loss. Make sure you get the hair stylist you want. Pick a short style for the initial haircut, if you cut your hair in steps. Get fitted for a wig and let your local wig shop teach you how to put it on, wear it, and care for it. Buy a headscarf and learn to tie it on. Buy or knit a cap with soft yarn in a favorite color. Once you’ve created your plan, follow it. Be decisive and do what makes you feel in control.

#3: Consider losing your hair “in community”

Cancer and treatment can be lonely. One way anticipate a huge loss is to gather in community, sharing deep meaning and ritual. For Jesus, the communion of the last supper was a deeply symbolic means of coming together with the disciples to reconcile the anticipated suffering of the crucifixion and new life in the resurrection. Jesus gathered people to him when he was going through difficulty. Often, they had a meal together and talked about their lives. When I began the chemo that would cause me to lose my hair, I invited my family to a “Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow” party. We ate, we laughed, we braided my long hair into twelve braids and cut it off. There were tears, but they were tears of love and loss. This has become a precious memory for me. Who can be part of your “hair loss” community? What can you do to make it a meaningful time for you?

What will you do to feel more in control of your hair loss?

How will you involve people to be part of your “hair loss” community?