How I Coped with Cancer-Related Hair Loss
by Winny Chi
Losing your hair during chemo is a BIG change. I knew the experience would make me feel different, but I never expected the transformation that would occur.
In August 2018, I was diagnosed with stage III ovarian cancer. After my surgery, I was told I would need several rounds of chemotherapy. My diagnosis had robbed me of my health, cancer-related medical expenses drained my bank account, and now I was going to lose my hair too? My beautiful hair that I’d worn long since high school was a big part of my self-image.
The next time I saw my doctor, I raised the issue of hairlessness. She said, “Who cares about hair? It will grow back. Now let’s discuss some important things we can do during your chemo.” In an affable way, her words communicated acceptance, intentionality, and confidence. That helped ease my anxiety.
My friend Michelle told me that her coworker is a cancer survivor whose hair amazingly grew back much healthier and shinier than before. That gave me an encouraging outlook.
My diagnosis robbed me of my health, cancer-related medical expenses drained my bank account, and now I was going to lose my hair too?
I didn’t want to experience the drawn-out grief of watching my beloved long hair fall from my head little by little. Like having a bad tooth pulled, you just want to get it over with quickly. So, two weeks before starting chemo, I cut my long hair short to help me adjust to the looming hair loss. That gave me a sense of control.
I did save some of my long locks of hair. It was, after all, part of me, my self-image. I secretly hoped that soon
I could compare my new hair with the salvaged tresses I had tucked away.
My friends said I looked much younger with short hair. That made me feel good. Then, just one week after my first round of chemo, my short hair started to fall out.
I asked my sister to shave it all off for me. But she just couldn’t do it.
Well, I can’t possibly mess this up, I thought. So, I took the clippers and started shaving. “Getting my health back takes priority over my hair,” I said to myself. “I will do this, and I will survive.”
I received a free wig from a nonprofit organization. A kind, elderly volunteer helped me make my selection. She told me she had survived breast cancer – twice – and that’s why she volunteers. She also gave me a hand-knitted chemo hat to keep my head warm when I wasn’t wearing my wig. She told me that people grew their hair out and donated it for the wigs, and other volunteers knitted the chemo caps. I was truly touched by the love these strangers showed to people they would likely never meet.
I only wore my wig twice; then I washed it and donated it back. I just felt more comfortable and natural in my soft, flower-patterned chemo hats. Now, when I see someone wearing a chemo hat, I whisper a prayer: I know what you’re going through. May you be strong and courageous. May you come out of this healthy and beautiful.
My hair grew back after chemo with natural curls. I had always had straight hair, and none of my previous methods of hair curling were as beautiful as my new coiled tresses. An internet search told me it’s called “chemo curl.” It was a happy surprise.
Regretfully, though, after my first post-chemo haircut, the curl is now gone. However, my hair is shinier and healthier than ever. And after overcoming cancer, so am I.
Winny Chi (the motivator) is an ovarian cancer survivor who is devoted to encouraging and helping others. You can learn more about Winny at WinnyChi.com.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2021.