“I didn’t think that after two of my chemo treatments that I would lose my hair so quickly.”
Hair loss during cancer treatment can be a difficult part of any patient’s cancer journey. Your hair may play a big role in your appearance. In some cases, it can even feel like part of your identity. For Roshni Kamta, who learned her breast cancer diagnosis at age 22, hair loss was “traumatic.”
“I had really long, black, curly hair, and I loved my hair,” says Kamta. “I finally got my hair healthy and got it to a point where it was really long.”
Hair Loss During Cancer Treatment
Not all types of cancer treatments result in hair loss. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are the two treatment types that most commonly cause hair loss. That’s because they can damage the hair follicles, causing hair to fall out. Luckily, alopecia caused by cancer treatment is usually temporary, and hair growth returns after treatment stops.
In some cases, you may be able to choose treatments that lower the risk of hair loss. This was not an option for Kamta, who had triple-negative breast cancer. For this subtype of breast cancer, chemotherapy is the most effective treatment. (Learn more about treating triple-negative breast cancer here.)
The Emotional Toll
Kamta’s social worker introduced her to a program called Road to Bald. “Basically, they cut cancer patients’ hair for free,” says Kamta. “She told me that to make it less traumatic for me, [they would] do it in stages because my hair was so long.”
After her first round of chemotherapy, she cut her hair to her shoulders. After the second round, things started to change more quickly.
“I started to notice a lot of shedding. I would touch my hair and then I would get a clump of hair out, and I wasn’t ready for that,” says Kamta. “I hated going to sleep because all over my pillow case there was hair.” That’s when she got her hair trimmed to a short “boy cut.”
However, the next day she was ready to go bald. She texted her hairdresser, “I just need to shave it off,” and her hairdresser met up with her on a Sunday morning. “It was really nice of my hairdresser to wake up on a Sunday morning and come in and have no one be in the salon, and for me to have that moment of shaving my head and for me to cry,” says Kamta.
That said, Kamta recalls feeling better once she was bald. “I think it was more traumatic to see all the hair that I was losing than actually being bald,” she says.
Coping with Hair Loss
Despite the difficulty of hair loss, Kamta found some ways to make the most of the situation. A big part of that was experimenting with wigs. It’s common for people undergoing cancer treatment to look for natural-looking, inconspicuous wigs, but Kamta decided to play around a little more.
“I bought a lot of wigs. I have six wigs. One’s purple, one is pink, one is blonde, one is curly, one is straight,” she says. “I never was allowed to dye my hair crazy colors, so it was just a time for me to experience a change.” Kamta also played with more colorful and adventurous makeup.
“It’s a time for you to be a different side of you. It depends on how you want to go about it. If you want to wear a wig, that’s great. If you don’t want to wear a wig, that’s also fine,” she says. “It’s however you want to cope with it yourself.”
If you’re having trouble coping with hair loss during cancer treatment, or the possibility of hair loss, talk to your doctor or social worker. They may have tips for dealing with hair loss, or know about programs in your area that can help assist with this process. For example, check out this woman who provides “henna crowns” for cancer patients.