I never thought I’d go through cancer… and I never thought I’d be bald. Yet, here I am. Although my previous blogs have been written for the general public, this blog is written for cancer survivors. Each of our journeys is different. Many of you will choose to do the Cold Cap Therapy to retain hair, which I hear is very successful. I did not , so this blog is to help anyone undergoing chemotherapy with the anticipation of great hair loss.
When I knew I would be completely bald due to chemotherapy, I began surfing the internet for images of how my hair would look once it began growing back and found there weren’t many posts on this topic for anxious cancer patients. I hope by documenting my journey I can provide honest encouragement for someone else undergoing hair loss as a result of cancer treatment.
When Will I Be Bald?
After my 2nd chemo treatment my hair starting falling out at the slightest touch, and I was unable to brush or wash it without losing handfuls of hair. I realized that before my next treatment my hair would all fall out on its own, or I could take control and shave it off myself. It was an emotional but powerful decision taking the step to do it myself, but it was the right decision for me. Because I felt so much of my life was already out of my hands, it was satisfying to have power over at least one area of my life. You can see in the photo that I still had eyebrows and eye lashes until my 6th treatment.
(photo below: June 2020)
Chemo Ended. Now What Should I Expect?
After my 6th chemotherapy treatment, I officially ended “hard” chemo, and hair, appetite, and energy slowly began to return. I noticed after the 6th treatment that I had a rosy flush to my cheeks. Most of my eyebrows and eye lashes had fallen out, and I only had a few remaining. Around the third treatment I began applying Latisse’s generic version, Bimatoprost, to my eyebrows. (I have dry eyes or I would have used it on the eyelashes as well). It retails for $250, but GoodRX offers it for $60. I learned to put a drop in the bottle’s cap and rub the applicator brush around the cap to avoid wasting any product. As a result, I only had to refill it every six to eight weeks instead of every three as directed. It should be noted that I did not use Cold Cap Therapy to keep my hair but have heard positive reviews from friends who have used and would recommend it.
(photos below: Oct. 2020)
1st Month after Chemotherapy:
A month after treatment I began to see soft, downy hair sprout and was very excited. My eyebrows took a bit longer to rebound, but I continued using the Bimatoprost for a few months and just enjoyed watching my hair come back to life. I am in my 50’s and have colored it for years, so it was no surprise that my hair returned in salt and pepper shades.
(photos below: Nov. 2020)
2nd Month after Chemotherapy:
Slowly, my hair got stronger each month, and I was careful to use products like Nioxin 2 Cleanser Shampoo for thinning hair. I also used a hair scalp massager ($6.99 Amazon) in the shower to stimulate the scalp and massaged Biotin serum and castor oil on it to keep follicles hydrated. I wore hats and mineral sunscreen to protect my scalp from sunburn so that it could stay healthy.
(Photo below: Dec, 2020)
3rd Month after Chemotherapy:
It is important for cancer patients to have a trusted hair stylist who is knowledgeable about how to help hair grow without damaging it. My stylist (and friend) is Royce Pizzo, one of the co-owners of J & F Gemelli in Cary. I’ve been a client of hers for years, so we have a great relationship. She not only knows my hair’s needs but is well-educated on hair growth from having had previous clients who have undergone chemotherapy. For instance, I wanted to color my hair as soon as possible so I would look more like I had before treatment, but Royce urged me to wait until the fourth month, which was the right decision. She encouraged me to keep using the Nioxin and refrain from heat and sulfates, many of which are in over-the-counter hair color products and shampoos. Sometimes I made a mixture of rosemary, lavender, and almond oil for a hair mask. I tried to stick with natural products as much as possible. With chemotherapy behind me, I slept and ate better, which contributes to overall health as well.
(Below: Jan. 2021)
4th Month after Chemotherapy:
The decision of what to do with hair after chemotherapy is as individualized as the survivors themselves, meaning it should be whatever makes the survivor feel good again. While many choose to celebrate the gray hair which often returns after immunotherapy, I chose to return to the hairstyle I had before cancer. Therefore, once my stylist felt my strands were strong enough for color, she used a very gentle salon color so that the ingredients wouldn’t be harsh. She colored it a little at a time, testing sections to be safe. My texture was mostly straight like before but much softer than it had ever been, and she said it would become coarser like before once more layers of hair returned.
(Below: Feb., ’21)
5th Month after Chemotherapy:
I was impatient but excited about hair regrowth once I started seeing a full head of hair. My stylist suggested I start a collagen regimen to nourish hair growth from within, so I researched and selected Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides supplement, which retails for $25 a month. It contains collagen, Vitamin C, and Hyaluronic Acid. There are many on the market, but I chose this one because it was an unflavored, grass-fed powder that dissolved easily into my morning coffee. (Please note: I have since read that collagen is a gray area for Triple-Positive survivors, so I would not use the supplement if I could do it again. I believe it is fine for survivors whose cancer was not fueled by estrogen or progesterone. It is, however, an excellent product).
(Photo: March, ’21)
6th Month after Chemotherapy:
For some reason, between months five and six my hair’s texture became especially wavy and didn’t resemble the hair I had before cancer nor anything I had seen as it returned. In order to feel more like myself, I wanted to straighten it, so my stylist applied a Keratin treatment. We chose Keratin because it was milder than a straightener but still relaxed the strands. (Like in the old days of perms, it’s ideal not to wash hair for three days after a Keratin treatment in order to get the best results). I continued with the collagen supplement and vitamins to help hair grow stronger and really felt it helped speed growth along. I also added Brazilian Blowout Ionic Bonding Spray to my hair after shampooing since it worked well with Keratin. My first haircut in over a year was exciting, and I loved my first pixie cut, which took place in April.
(Below, April ’21)
7th Month after Chemotherapy:
The crown, sides, and back of my hair grew fast, but the front was very slow to return since it is typically the last layer to fully return. Patience is hard but important at this point in the hair growth process.
By now I had a plan: I received a trim and Keratin treatment every other appointment, which was every six weeks, but to make me feel good, my stylist would color it every three weeks. Luckily, my texture was now very similar to what it had been before chemotherapy except in two areas; on each side around the ears the underlying layers of hair were tight curls, unruly, and unlike the rest of my hair’s soft wavy texture. I was assured that this was normal for chemo patients and that sometimes these patches showed up in odd places on the scalp. Like most cancer patients, I was so much more grateful to see hair return than I was upset that some patches of it were frizzy. It was part of the journey, and I knew it wouldn’t last forever.
(Below, May ’21)
8th Month after Chemotherapy:
By the eighth month I had enough hair to switch to Kerastase shampoo and conditioner, along with a few drops of Kerastase Blond Absolu oil to nourish and neutralize brassiness. I was thrilled once I could wrap a round brush around my strands for a blowout and add a straightening tool to my routine. Some areas continued to grow faster than others, and at times I was impatient for the front to fully return. To avoid having a mullet, we kept my hair short because hair on the crown was still only a few inches long. I continued wearing pixies since they seemed like the best option, and I remember the first time I received a compliment on my “short, sassy cut” from a stranger who had no idea my hair was returning from cancer treatment. It felt amazing to blend in with society!
(Below: June ’21)
9th Month after Chemotherapy:
Although still only a few inches long, the crown and back of the head had grown as thick as before chemotherapy, and I was relieved. However, there was a section in the very back of my head that now grew into dense, tight curls so my stylist texturized that area to make styling hair more manageable. (The photos below show the before/after so you can see the mullet she shaped into a pixie). The tight patches on the sides became looser, but I continued having salon Keratin treatments every six weeks to make the tight, curly patches relaxed and easier to style.
(Below: July, ’21)
10th Month after Chemotherapy:
I remember reading that hair grows a half-inch each month, which is true but it does not all grow the same speed at the same time, so while the fullness returned to the back, the front remained short bangs that I swept to the side so they looked more stylish. Big earrings became my best friend, and I especially loved simple, large hoops.
(Below: August, ’21)
11th Month After Chemotherapy:
For some reason at this point in my growth cycle, my scalp became extremely irritated and itchy. It was as if my nerve endings became hyper sensitive. Thankfully, my stylist did a cooling, moisturizing treatment that helped, and she suggested Oribe’s Serene Scalp Soothing Leave-On Treatment, which I applied before blow drying. I also rubbed peppermint oil and rosemary into my scalp at times to soothe the scalp. About a month or two later the itching went away, and I never figured out if it was my a side effect of my immunotherapy medications or stress, but I was relieved that it was over.
(Below: September ’21)
12th Month after Chemotherapy:
This month the layer of hair that grew close to my forehead finally started growing, which meant that my bangs finally became fuller. My stylist explained that it was always the last layer to return. It was nice to have full bangs and to start seeing them grow longer as well.
(Below: Oct., ’21)
13th Month after Chemotherapy:
I continued with my flapper-style pixie and was thrilled at how full my hair was. I remained on the collagen supplement and continued my routine of alternating haircuts with Keratin treatments. Seeing hair return felt like a return to good health, and I must admit I really enjoyed having short hair at this stage.
(Below: Nov., ’21)
14th Month after Chemotherapy:
For someone who had always worn long hair, I have to admit this stage of the hair growth journey was definitely fun. To run errands and look like everyone else is a luxury I had taken for granted before chemotherapy. I plan to let hair grow longer so it is similar to how I looked before chemotherapy but may one day return to this style because it was so carefree.
(Below: Dec., ’21)
There’s something psychologically healing about seeing hair grow that makes a cancer survivor feel stronger and healthier. It definitely takes patience, but it is such a rewarding feeling when hair returns after cancer treatment. My shortest layer is about six inches at this point, so it will take time to have shoulder-length hair again, but I am definitely having fun watching the monthly hairstyle changes along the way. I am incredibly grateful for my support system and look forward to the next stage of hair growth when I am able to rock an angled bob 🙂
This blog is dedicated to my dear friend and stylist, Royce, of J & F Gemelli.