Or,"Alopecia is a common side effect of chemotherapy. USE A COLD CAP TO PREVENT HAIR LOSS!"
Or,Or, "Losing one's hair can be distressing. WEAR HATS AND SCARVES! HATS AND SCARVES!"
Yeah yeah yeah. That doesn't help me understand the balding process. What is it like to actually watch yourself go bald? How long will it take? Will it come out in clumps? Will I have big bald patches on my head? Will it hurt?
Asking "How long does it take to lose one's hair during chemotherapy?" is like asking "How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?"
The world may never know...
Which is why I decided to document my hair loss process. (Impatient monkeys have permission to skip to the end of this post for day-by-day photos.)
I read a few forums and nearly every person—let's be honest, they were mostly women—talked about how devastated they were to lose their hair so they just shaved it off. I've already discussed how shaving my hair again was too devastating for me.
The slow process is not for everyone. Each person has to deal with hair loss in their own way. I'm a peel-the-band-aid-off-slowly, inch-into-the-pool kind of person. Coupled with my curiosity, it's only natural I would take the slow route.
So, to answer my own questions (while keeping in mind that every patient's hair loss experience will be different)...
- What is it like to actually watch yourself go bald?
- For me, fascinating, embarrassing, horrifying, and heartbreaking. The embarrassing aspect came into play when I was around other people, particularly strangers. I felt bad for anyone who had to look at me, so I wore hats anytime I ventured into the public eye. I nearly cried at my family's Memorial Day BBQ celebration (the first time I was in a group setting with super thin hair). Of course, I've laughed and made fun. I also invited people around me to laugh, be shocked, and sympathize. Basic tire swinging stuff.
- How long will it take?
- The active phase of my hair loss lasted about one week, then stopped and left me in limbo. Originally, I thought the pause happened because my second treatment was delayed. I waited patiently hoping the process would begin again once I resumed chemo. Some hairs came out, but no more than a normal day during life pre-cancer. A week after my third treatment I came to the conclusion that the remaining hairs on my head must be resilient and that for better or worse they were gonna stay.
- Will it come out in clumps?
- Yes, but not in the way I thought. See the videos below.
- Will I have big bald patches on my head?
- Not in my experience. My hair just got thinner and thinner. Luckily, the remaining hairs are distributed evenly over my scalp.
- Will it hurt?
- Nope! At least not physically. Thank goodness! Some articles mentioned that one's head might feel tingly a day or two before the hair fell out. I experienced mild tingliness when I touched my head, especially after I tied the hair up all day. I think the follicles wanted freedom. Pulling the hair out never hurt either.
Below are some videos showing what that was like:
UPDATE: If the videos don't work, click on the links provided.
Sunday, May 25, 2014 (Day 4)
Funny enough, for one who used to be a YouTube addict, I didn't think to search its database. People have posted videos of their hair loss, so I'm not the only one who has done this. I wish I'd thought to film my process, especially the huge clumps of hair that came out after I washed it each time. Instead, I took snapshots.
If hair does not gross you out, then enjoy this beautiful collection of pictures:
- Picture after my first hair washing (Day 2)
- Collection of tresses from the 24-Hour Experiment (Day 4)
- Hair clumps after a second washing (Day 5)
During the process I discovered something more horrendous than being bald again: The Perpetual Gollum Phase. Ugh! Somehow I missed the part in those hair loss articles discussing partial hair loss. Our society is so saturated with images of the bald chemo patient that we overlook the phases in-between and the possibility of not-so-bald.
I waited for those stubborn hairs to fall out. Oh, I waited and waited. I wanted to hold out until the last strand fell to the floor. After 37 days, I gave up and buzzed it all off. I was tired of having ridiculously thin hair.
My sister asked if I wanted to film or photograph the buzz cut. No. I did not. This was not an act of courage. This was an act of defeat, of surrender. I needed it to be as private a moment as possible. That's not to say the moment wasn't special.
Since my two-year-old nephew has been unimpressed with my stringy hair, I thought it would help him to watch and even participate with the buzzing ceremony. I gathered my hair into a ponytail barely wider than a #2 pencil and hacked it off myself. My sister helped my nephew guide an electric razor over my head. He seemed to enjoy it. Until he got frustrated because we wouldn't let him do it all on his own, so he marched out of the bathroom. My sister continued shaving my head until her newborn got hungry. My brother-in-law—an expert at buzz cuts—took over and finished. He was very sweet and paid attention to details I never would have thought of.
The entire time, all I wanted to do was cry.
I suppose shaving one's head is a rite of passage for chemo patients. I have finally joined the ranks.
I have to admit, I'm glad the hair is gone. My head feels a lot better. Although it's a curious phenomenon that when I shaved my head two years ago in the winter, hats felt uncomfortable (except when outside in the snow). So far, despite it being summertime, a beanie feels perfectly soothing sitting on my bald skin. I am officially Chemo Girl!
All right, finally, the moment you've all been waiting for. Below is an almost day-by-day photo collection of my hair loss process, with pictures taken from multiple angles. Once I reached the Gollum phase, I stopped taking pictures as frequently.