For the majority of women, the most dreaded part of going through chemotherapy is losing their hair. It is pretty easy to understand why. Hair is a sign of femininity. Losing your hair makes you look vulnerable and easy to label as someone who is sick.
Buying a wig to regain what you’ve lost is not a simple, straightforward solution—it’s not the same as the real thing.
The price of a natural hair wig could be anywhere between $800 and $3,000, whereas a synthetic wig costs less than $500. Insurance companies cover part or all of it because for breast cancer patients a wig is a prosthetic.
I decided to get fitted for a synthetic wig, which I only wore once. I did not like the way it looked on me. It made my head feel itchy and sweaty. I was not comfortable at all.
Instead I wore scarves, which I found to be very easy and versatile. I had a few regular scarves that I just tied around my head, but my personal favorite was one that I could tie on top. It looked like a turban.
I lost my hair a few days after my second treatment. It usually happens anywhere between two to four weeks after starting chemo.
Knowing I would lose my hair, I decided to cut it off. That way, I thought, seeing it fall out would not be as challenging. I took a trimmer at home on the zero setting. It felt really weird to check myself out in the mirror afterward. My husband at the time, D, also shaved his head.
In hindsight, it would have felt less intense to get it done at a salon.
There are several advantages to having no hair. Getting ready is a piece of cake and shaving or waxing is not part of your beauty routine anymore. However, losing my eyebrows and eyelashes was a totally different story. This completely changed the way my features looked—I was clueless about how to use an eyebrow pencil.
The Cancer Center at MGH served as a great resource for cancer patients. I got invited to a complimentary beauty session offered by an organization called Look Good, Feel Better.
When I arrived at the session, there was a kit for me with products from major brands such as MAC, Chanel and Bobbi Brown matching my skin tone and hair color. They showed me tricks with eyeshadows and eyebrow pencils and taught me how to take care of my skin during chemo.
I cruised through the first part of my treatment with almost no side effects. I was eating and sleeping well. Plus I had the energy to exercise regularly.
Four treatments down, 12 more to go!
I had been in chemo for about 4 months and I needed to get ready for the second part of my treatment, which consisted of one chemo agent, Taxol, and a drug called Herceptin, which is not a chemo agent but it is also administered intravenously at the chemo ward.
Herceptin is given to patients with tumors in which a protein called HER2 is present. About 25% of breast cancers are HER2 positive. These breast cancers tend to be much more aggressive and tend to grow faster.
I started to think about my treatment in terms of phases.
Phase 1: Check. I wondered if I was going to feel this well during Phase 2.
Losing my hair did not faze me. I was more concerned about reaching a chemically induced menopause at 32.
My periods did stop after my second treatment. My doctors were not sure if they were ever going to come back. For the first time in my life, I wanted to get my period. I started to despair about the idea of ever having a biological family.
I needed to get out of this negative funk and find positive things to think about. I wanted to look forward to something. I needed to look forward to something.
Perhaps plan a trip to an amazing destination abroad and go when this was all over. In the interim, I thought about how I could turn this negative into a positive and help other young women recently diagnosed with breast cancer.