Coping with Hair Loss

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Hair loss and cancer appear to go hand in hand, particularly when the patient is going through chemotherapy. In fact, it’s usually expected.

Here in the UK, the standard, first line treatment for cholangiocarcinoma is cisplatin and gemcitabine, which can cause hair loss, but from the people I have spoken to, and from my own experience, a bit of thinning is more common.

I remember thinking THAT was hard.

Then I started on Pemigatinib and learnt exactly what hair loss feels like.

I had always thought of losing my hair as a short term loss for long term gain but when it happened I totally underestimated the effect this would have on me. Every day, washing, drying, and brushing my hair resulted in a huge “furball”. Although I haven’t lost all my hair, there is very little and I have a whole new appreciation of the comb over, favoured by many an aging male. I have even clung to a small (and extremely thin) ponytail. What with my receding hairline, my partner says I look a bit like Francis Rossi, lead singer from Status Quo. I have to admit, I find this quite amusing and rather scarily, accurate. I have lost count of how many people have encouraged me to shave it off, many stating that “you have the face for it” etc.

Will I heck as like, shave it off! Every one of those hairs has survived and so earns the right in my opinion, to remain comfy in its follicle.

Even more devastating to me, was when my eyebrows also began falling out. I had got my head around having cancer but looking like I have cancer has been really difficult and it actually left me feeling pretty vulnerable. I didn’t want looks of pity from well meaning strangers. As my hair continued to fall out, I barely recognised myself and struggled to even look in the mirror at times. I continuously felt the need to tell anyone I spoke to that I was losing my hair as if I had to offer them an explanation as to why I was suddenly resembling Gollum from Lord of the Rings.

Eventually, I decided to look for a wig and I have to say, I was surprised at how many beautiful ones there are available. I didn’t want to go for a total image overhaul, although I totally get why many do. I wanted mine to look as natural and as true to my own hair as possible and so chose one that was dark rooted and ombre with a loose wave in. In fact, the added bonus of this is that on my natural hair, a wave would usually drop within an hour of leaving the hair salon.

My advice would be to find one you really like (obviously) and then search the make, style and colour on YouTube – there will definitely be a vlogger offering a review on it. If it wasn’t for this, I would have made many, unsuccessful purchases. Wigs are not cheap, and you cannot return them once you’ve tried it on so do your research.

Another tip is, if possible, take your wig to a salon where they can help to customise it so you feel more comfortable. Naturally, I have fine hair, so when I first wore mine, it was just a bit poofy, like that of a lion’s mane. My hairdresser thinned the wig out and made the front section less heavy and more natural looking. She also gave me lots of advice, which gave me more confidence to actually leave the house with it on.

For when I am just pottering around the house, I have found head scarves that you can simply wear as a hair band a great option. I am rubbish at tying them to look all fancy…believe me, I’ve tried!

So, as devastating as it is to lose your hair, your “crowning glory”, your identity even, especially for a female, you can wing it – or wig it – and regain some confidence and control. It takes some time and a lot of playing around with them to feel comfortable, but they do help. I had no idea until recently, that many people, including plenty of celebrities and “influencers”, who have not experienced hair loss, simply wear wigs to change their image.

So basically, my friends, that makes us totally on trend!

Some good news….

Recently, I have noticed my eyebrows are beginning to grow thicker and the hairbrush is no longer clogged after one stroke. Hurrah!!!

Losing your hair is hard. The impact it has on your confidence and emotions are not to be underestimated. It’s hard enough navigating a cancer diagnosis and so it seems just plain cruel when you have to deal with your hair falling out too but weirdly, and reassuringly, you do get used to it. It’s just another step on this crazy journey.

Much love and strength,

Megan x

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