“Will I lose my hair?”
Often one of the first questions asked when talking about treatment for a cancer diagnosis, losing your hair is one of the most recognised (and frequently most dreaded) side effects of receiving chemotherapy. In many cases, someone undergoing chemotherapy can lose some or all of their hair, including hair on their head, their eyebrows, body hair and even their nose hair (hello, perpetual runny nose).
It can be incredibly difficult to cope with emotionally; here is a very public sign of your illness. A neon sign of vulnerability and struggle. You may worry about how you look, or about what others think about you. It might visibly upset your loved ones around you. If your hair holds particular importance, such as religious or cultural significance, it can force you to readjust your most ingrained perceptions. Much of our identity is tied into the way we look, and our hair can play an integral role in that, particularly for women.
Some people choose to use a cold cap in an attempt to prevent or lessen hair loss during chemotherapy. Others decide that chemotherapy is uncomfortable enough without being freezing as well, and choose to face hair loss in other ways. Wigs, for example, can be a fantastic alternative, as can hats and scarves.
But to shave or not to shave, that is the question – and it’s one to which there’s no right or wrong answer. As a lovely oncologist told me last week, whatever decision you make is the right one for you.
In my case, it meant facing it head on (pun intended).
As someone who has enjoyed rocking a pixie cut before and who is immersed in queer culture I wasn’t too nervous about braving the shave – though I was slightly concerned I might have an oddly shaped skull (think Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull style).
It was important to me that shaving my head be a fun event rather than something to be dreaded, which is why I asked one of the most upbeat and hilarious people I know, Libby Harrington from BA1 Hair in Bath, to be the one to do it. Sam Short, one of my best friends and a professional photographer to boot (seriously, if you ever have an event you want photographed hire these guys) came along to document the experience. My Dad also decided to get in on the action and shave his head in solidarity too.
I just want to take a moment to say ‘thank you’ to them for making it a true celebration, and for being generally amazing and supportive. So, thank you and I love you. You helped me to take control of a situation in which I felt quite overwhelmed and powerless, and flip it into a positive experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Oh, and you guys, I am seriously in love with the photos.
They capture the laughter, love and liberation of the whole experience perfectly, and I wanted to share them with you. Take a look at the slideshow below and, whatever your feelings about hair loss, please remember that they’re valid, important and that you don’t owe anyone anything when it comes to the choices you decide to make for you during this process.