Losing your hair for whatever reason is shocking and upsetting and now also the hallmark of most people who have gone through hard core cancer treatment and chemotherapy. It was a subject that both Carol and I spent hours discussing together and with others. So many of the stories have similar themes and Carol, now a brunette, went from a blonde bob to completely bald via the pixie cut. Here is her story:
I have lived in a few countries in Europe and it had been a lifelong ambition of mine to move to France, so in December 2011 when my husband was offered a new dream job in the French mountains near Geneva, we went straight away. I had visions of cycling round the French countryside with a basket full of French bread and behaving very Juliette Binoche. Having worked my whole life, I decided to become a housewife, a full time mother and really live the dream. It all seemed so perfect, life had come up trumps and my family and I were very excited. Life however, had other plans for me.
It was only six months later in June 2012 following a routine mammogram, that I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The news was devastating as you can imagine, not just for me, but my family and it felt like an end to our dreams. I immediately had to start treatment and I knew right then that I would probably lose my hair. At that moment, like anyone about to embark on a life or death medical process, I really didn’t care.
My lovely oncologist couldn’t have had a better ‘bedside manner’, coaxing me through each of the stages. I trusted him implicitly and he decided to ‘throw everything at it’ so I was straight in at the deep end with two operations and then chemotherapy and radiotherapy and then a biological treatment within 18 months. I hadn’t asked the doctor if I would lose my hair, since it felt relatively unimportant by comparison to discussing cancer treatment. To be honest it was all such a blurr I don’t remember much of what he said or what I asked - which is why they tell you to write your questions down on paper before you go.
I know now that not all chemotherapy combinations mean you'll lose your hair. You can try and avoid it by the use of a ‘cold cap’ that almost freezes your hair to your head. It looks a bit like an old fashioned ‘hood over the head’ hair dryer. In my case however, the toxic chemo cocktail meant there was no point in even trying the cold cap, I was going to be bald.
No one really prepares you for how this happens; you are pretty much left to your own devices to cope with this. I decided, the best thing was to go for a shorter style and embrace the close to the head crop. It would make the transition to bald lady a bit easier and I thought it might even make the hair last longer on my head if it wasn’t so heavy. It was only a couple of days after hearing the news and knowing what the treatment would do to my hair that I decided to go for the chop. Chanel was mostly right when she said, ‘A woman who cuts her hair, is about to change her life.’ I asked my wonderful friend Ali to come round and do the deed. Asking a friend to cut all your hair off is a rite of passage and needed some kind of ritual or ceremony - this is no ordinary haircut. Another friend Lisa came to witness ‘the chop’ and offer support, having friends around you for these moments is priceless. They both were really enthusiastic about my pixie crop and we all thought it very Mia Farrow and things didn’t seem so bad. With hindsight, I might have been a bit premature getting the crop since my hair didn't entirely fall out for another month or so and I lived with the French gamine look for a while and actually quite liked it. It is definitely the right thing to do since long hair coming out in your hands at random moments is hugely disturbing.
I am still secretly in love with my pixie crop; it got me through a hard time and prepared me for what was to come. I'm very glad I got to give it a go and the majority of people who saw me with it thought I was VERY brave - in a hair cut sense, not a cancer one. Who would ever think chemotherapy was the reason a 50-odd year old woman had such a drastic hair cut if you didn't know? I am sure Coco Chanel was thinking of something far more fabulous for the life change hair cut so I will keep her vision in mind.
What I didn’t know was that by chemo two, my hair follicles would became so incredibly sensitive that touching even the end of my hair would be extremely and utterly painful. I was in agony. Touching my head on the pillow, putting on a hat, lying on a cushion on the sofa, it all hurt like hell.
So I begged my husband to shave my head. He came home from work expecting to eat dinner but instead was in the bathroom shaving his wife’s head. Poor guy, one of the first things he noticed about me was my long blonde hair and here he was shaving my head. I had come to love the pixie crop so shaving that hair cut away was the worst bit so far. Weirdly our two dogs were beside themselves with excitement about what was occurring. However, I couldn't look in the mirror for days, it really is quite shocking to see yourself like this and compounds the fact in your mind at every caught glance, that you are a cancer patient. Having a bald head is a rare sensation and rather than look in the mirror, I spent a lot of time stroking my head (as bald men often do).
When I was going through the treatment the only time I felt ‘normal’ was in the shower with the hot water running down my body. Just after the shave, as I stepped out of the shower I noticed the tub had lots of black dots in it (the same ones I find in the sink after my husband has shaved). Surely he hasn’t been shaving in the bath? Then I realised, it was the roots of my hair, the very last bits of it had finally jumped ship and I was now totally bald.
Before we did the shave I was sent (by the well-meaning hospital) to a nearby wig store to buy a wig. Ali came with me and we arrived at the only wig store in a small French town and what appeared to be a Bon Jovi convention from 1982. Ali was singing ‘Oh we’re half way there…’ in the background whilst I tried on a few burgundy wigs. I looked surprisingly like a Jon Bon Jovi tribute act – and whilst he might be a well known heart throb, I did not look like me. We settled on a blonde wig, nearest to my original hair and left. (this picture taken at the shop two years later).
I think I can honestly say I wore the wig twice as it was beyond uncomfortable. You could wear one of these wigs to a fancy dress on a night out, but not on top of my tender head! The very brittle nylon lining irritated my poor beleagured scalp and increased by sensitivity and awareness to ‘something’ on my head, so any hair flopping against my face was intolerable. This still seems to be the wig standard in most countries unfortunately and even though the wig wasn’t cheap, it wasn’t worth the itching. What other friends have told me when they have persevered with their wigs is that they are incredibly hot. One friend had hers on in Starbucks and was using a tissue to clear the sweat running down her face and mop her brow. When people started staring she thought they had noticed she was wearing a wig – but on looking in the mirror hours later, she realised she had bits of tissue poking out of her hairline all across her forehead!
There is always the ‘attractive scarves tied in interesting ways’ look to fall back on, yet this wasn’t me any more than Bon Jovi. In the French mountains in winter, I might as well have worn a post-it note on my forehead saying ‘I Have Cancer’. This was not something I wanted to advertise, even though I am and have always been, really open about having cancer because I believe the more we talk about it, the less of a stigma it becomes.
Luckily woolley hats in the alps are what everyone wears and I could easily blend in with a beanie. In the house I had an amish cotton cap to keep my head warm. I needed the warmth – who knew that hair keeps you so warm. As well as my hair giving up the ghost, my eyebrows fell out completely (along with all the rest of my body hair). My nose ran like a dripping tap (having no hair to stop the drips) and my eyes streamed and itched. This is a sorry place to be and thankfully I had a great group of family and friends around me. My nephew who is a cancer researcher was sent to keep me company. He told me that I needn’t bother being positive because there were no stats (yet) to prove it helped BUT having a network of family and friends, pets or a religion were all statistically proved to aid survival rates. A typical scientific view. But as Meatloaf said ‘Two out of three ain’t bad’.
How To Fake An Eyebrow.I tried hard with this one. The trick is flicky lines like you're mimicking actual individual hairs. My mistake was badly measuring the distance from eye to brow. I spent my brow-less months of chemo with a look of permanent surprise, the result of nothing but my own bad judgement. Not only was it a shock to see my brows grow back but they were half a centimetre lower than I had been drawing them.
And then it happened, really quite quickly in fact, my hair started to really grow back even before the chemo was over and I got ‘Chemo Curls’. I had heard of this and imagined Botticelli like waves, but what I got was my mother after a shampoo and set circa 1965. It was massively depressing. Call me vain, but I called the doctor to ask how long I would look like this? He said two years or perhaps forever. FOREVER! That was the first time I cried about my hair.
I had been blindly confident it would come back and just hadn’t imagined how. It was a terrible dilemma. Do I go back to the pixie OR let it grow out? I talked about it with my son, he advised me to let it grow, then cut off the curls and see what happened. Which is what I did.
So, here I am and it’s 2017, I am a four years survivor and so far cancer free. This little tale is how Ann-Louise and I came to develop the Kansha Alchemy hair nutrients. If I had known back then that taking vitamins would increase the chances of ‘Good Hair’ (rather than my mother’s hair) returning sooner, I would have been on them in a minute. A small detail like this would make so much difference to the cancer treatment process and I definitely want other women (and men) to know this could be one less thing to worry about when you find yourself on that cancer treadmill. I don’t ever refer to it as a journey because a journey is something you plan, look forward to and generally enjoy – none of that applies to having cancer treatment.
It wasn’t just my cancer story and the hair products that inspired Kansha Alchemy, it was truly a desire to enhance any sense of wellbeing via the products we would create and the mood we would convey. We want to develop ideas that we both love and live by and so are busy looking for new and better products to share.
Cancer took two years of my life and my hair, but now four years on I have my life and my hair back (except half my right eye brow is still missing) and have never felt better. There's something to be said for placing bad experiences in a box in the back of your mind and making room for the good stuff to take centre stage. A little focus on our blessings and ‘kansha’, makes us aware of all the opportunities available at every moment.
CANCER AND DRUG THERAPY:
In the case of chemotherapy patients or any patients who may have lost their hair due to toxic drug regime and not their own original issue, the usually hair returns by itself when the drugs have stopped. This happens spontaneously with the body supplying the proteins for the hair via food consumption for this epic follicular return. These same proteins also go to the bones, ligaments and other body tissues which will be first in line to receive any nutrients and possibly the reason why hair grows back irregular and patchy at first. The easiest way to ensure healthy hair returns and not at the expense of bone growth is to supplement the diet with the nutrients that are in Good Hair and Biotin Booster. The scalp can be extremely sensitive and no other massage or therapy is required since blood flow to the scalp was not the original cause of hair loss.
So, here it is folks, my last blog selfie, taken on my 60th birthday. This is Lily my lovely dog who lay by my side when I was feeling grim and got me off the sofa to go for a walk on so many days when I thought I couldn’t.