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Coping with hair loss as a result of cancer treatment

Early last year, Fiona Morris from Belfast was diagnosed with breast cancer. After a mastectomy, she had chemotherapy. Fiona’s treatment meant that unfortunately she lost her hair. Now, 18 months later, life is moving on. Her hair has grown again and Fiona is back in the gym, doing the training she enjoys. This is Fiona’s story of coping with cancer treatment and its effects.

My diagnosis

Last March I found a small lump in my breast. It felt so small that I wondered if it was part of my breast. I decided that as I was going to see my GP about something else, I would mention it. He referred me to a breast clinic to get it checked out.

At the hospital I had a mammogram and an ultrasound scan. This showed 2 lumps and a biopsy confirmed it was breast cancer. After discussing it with the surgeon, we decided a mastectomy would be the best course of action. It was a huge shock, and I cried that night until there were no tears left.

My treatment

In a way I was very calm, knowing that the bad bits were to be removed. I recovered well from the operation, and all the support from my family and friends made me feel very positive. Even though one lymph node had been affected and I now faced chemotherapy, I didn't mind. I felt the chemotherapy would act like a weed killer and get rid of any bad bits still lurking.

I had a lot of sickness after the first session, so made sure I got lots of anti sickness drugs after that. I also had mouth ulcers and a real lack of energy. But one of the worst effects of the treatment was losing my hair.

My hair started to fall out about 3 weeks after my first lot of chemotherapy. Each morning for about a week, there was a lot of hair on the pillow, and when I washed or brushed my hair, it came out in handfuls. My hair felt different too. It reminded me of the hair on one of the dolls my daughter had when she was a little girl.

Finally, I asked my husband to shave my head to get rid of the remaining straggly hairs. That was probably the worst moment of all. We sat in the bathroom, held each other and cried and cried. It really brought home to me just what was happening and my eyes still well up at the memory. But once it was over, we moved on and got used to it.

Living without hair

Before my hair started to fall out, I had chosen a wig. I was quite taken with a short funky style, but in the end decided on one very much like my own long, straight hair. The first time my son saw me wearing it, he didn’t even notice it wasn’t my hair!

I didn’t actually wear my wig very much. During warm weather it was too hot and itchy, and I decided that when I was at home I should just be who I am. My friends and my teenage children had no problem with me not having any hair, even the postman and window cleaner didn’t seem to bat an eyelid. Strangely enough, I did put my wig on if older family members came to visit as I thought they might be uncomfortable.

One thing I had done before my treatment started was to buy a selection of reasonably priced scarves to wear on my head. But as well as losing the hair on my head, I lost body hair and my eyebrows and eyelashes became very thin. I felt that the lack of dark hair around my eyes made me look ill, so I found different ways of applying make up. But on the bright side, it was nice to have smooth, hair free legs through the summer months!

Life moves on

My hair started to come back at the same time as my last chemotherapy treatment, but it seemed to take ages to grow. My previously straight hair has grown back curly which colleagues seem to find fascinating. To me, it seems normal now and I’m just pleased not to have too much grey!

I still go for check ups every six months. These appointments can make me think about the possibility of the cancer coming back. I am generally a very positive person and I know that is how other people see me, but a little bit of me does still get scared sometimes.

Its funny how our minds can protect us - I’ve shelved many of the memories of the bad times. Its over a year now and you really do move on. I'm back at the gym working out nearly as hard as before and I’m so grateful to be able to do it. I have focused on getting fitter and living healthily. I went back to work in November, had breast reconstruction surgery in March, walked a marathon in May and did Race for Life in June!

Factfile

  • Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK with more than 44,000 women and about 300 men diagnosed every year.
  • Most of the women who get breast cancer are past their menopause, but almost 8,000 diagnosed each year are under 50 years old.
  • Surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormone therapy are all used to treat breast cancer
  • More women are surviving breast cancer than ever before

More information

Fiona took part in Race for Life in Belfast. Read more about this very special fundraising event that takes place throughout the UK each summer.

These links will take you to CancerHelp UK’s information about

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Updated: 28 September 2009