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To Shave or Not to Shave - That is the question

Posted Apr 13 2012 11:13am

Kind of felt it was time to get to the hair (or not) section. After all, it's the thing every woman thinks of from the moment they hear the word "cancer." It's right after being scared of dying. We can't help it. We're so tied to our hair as part of what defines us as being women. How many shampoo commercials are there anyway? So going bald is  traumatic to think about, and, yes, traumatic to experience. Have faith, though, you can survive this part, too.

The #1 thing to know: If you are on Cytoxan in chemotherapy, your hair WILL fall out. 100 % of the time. It starts to happen just after the second week. Around day 12. Like clockwork so set your alarm. It’s actually not really 100% of your hair, but it may as well be. When you’re on chemo, you don’t go completely bald. Some hairs stick around. Unfortunately, it may be 1% or less of all the hair on your head. This is the equivalent of being bald, but you actually don’t go completely bald. It’s more like a Dr. Seuss character. Bald head with 10 hairs sticking straight up.  So, you will have to decide....

How and when to shave your head…and then what? 


First of all, I need to be honest: I never, ever got comfortable looking at myself bald. Many women I spoke to did, and many more did not. I dreaded losing my hair even more than losing a breast. Even though only one grows back. I had fabulous, long, thick hair that people always remarked on. The kind of hair that the shampoo girls at the salon always said, “Wow. You have such great hair.” And I’d had it at least shoulder length since I was 16. I wasn’t vain about it. I didn’t spend hours curling or straightening or anything. But still, like many women, hair was a huge part of how I saw myself when I looked in the mirror.So, when I knew I was having chemo and I knew I was going to lose my hair, I did a ton of research and read everything I could find. I talked to everyone about what they did and when and how and how it felt. Even after all that - there were things I still had to learn myself. Without exception, every single woman I talked to recommended that I shave my hair off BEFORE the chemo made it start falling out. Including many women who had waited until theirs did start falling out. Of those, almost all said they waited because they just couldn’t bear the thought of shaving their heads, but then the actual experience of clumps of hair falling out unexpectedly was far more traumatic than shaving would have been.  I was fortunate to live in Bellevue, Washington, where one of the last great hair artists lives. Anton and his son, Kurt, make wigs out of your own hair. This is not cheap, but for me (and as a gift from my parents), it was a godsend.  I brought my two best girlfriends and they brought champagne (which we did not drink, but I wish I had) and chocolate (which we ate, and I’m glad I did). When Kurt shaved my head, he left about three-quarters of an inch all around, and one thing I did not expect was how grey I was! I’d been coloring my hair for years and now the roots were exposed. It turned out for the best, because now I knew what to expect when it started to grow back, but it was shocking. If you’ve been coloring your hair for years - be warned. You will now see how grey you really are. Either now, or when it starts to grow back.  Hair today, gone tomorrow.
Then the little bit that is left starts to fall out. It really does and it’s not fun. It doesn’t fall out in one day but it is pretty dramatic when it happens. Everyone I talked to felt the same need I did, to pull and rub and get them all out when it starts. It’s cathartic somehow - like scratching an itch. I even took one of those lint catchers that’s like a giant roll of masking tape and rolled that up and down my scalp. It takes a few days or a week. Even then, there will be some left. That’s when I shaved with an electric razor, so I could be more comfortable. WARNING – if you’re Caucasian, your scalp will be REALLY WHITE. Especially if you have thick hair. It’s very different than a man going bald over time. Your scalp has most likely not been exposed since you were an infant, so be prepared for the extreme whiteness. It’s dramatic.

TOP 5 Hints for shaving your headStart shaving from the back and move forward. It’s far less traumatic that way. In the movies they always start at the front, and you’ve seen how that goes. Professionals start in the back. Leave a little bit of a buzz-cut that first time, because those hairs actually need to fall out to avoid leaving little bumps on your head.  Leave about 3/4-1” of a tag so they will fall out comfortably. Have a wig ready and waiting. I actually ended up with a few wigs and I named them. The first was made of my own hair, so I called it Andrea. The second was a long redhead and she was Fifi - of course - and the third was a cute short and sassy number I named Jackie. I wore them according to my mood and activity. For example, I never wore Fifi to chemo. It just didn't’ seem right to take her there.Get a little cap to sleep in. It will make you feel more comfortable on the pillow and keep your head warm.  And if you’re really traumatized, you will avoid the shock of getting up in the middle of the night and seeing yourself bald.Get some Aveda Pure-Formance exfoliating shampoo for men. Yup, for men. This was a trick I learned from another survivor. One tube will last you the whole experience, but it’s the only shampoo that feels good on a bald head. It also protects your scalp from those ingrown hairs and it smells good.

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