Why Hair Loss is a Loss

Here I am writing about hair loss . . . again.

I wish I didn’t feel the need. The people I want to reach with this post won’t find it, have an interest in it, or read it. These, however, are the people who have motivated me to write it. Try, try again as the old adage goes.

Hair loss is grieved every single time it happens. It doesn’t matter if it’s happened before. You don’t grieve a loved one or a pet only once. Hair is not human or a beloved pet, but it is a part of you and your identity that is gone.

Hair loss angers me. Every time it happens, I feel the hurt more deeply. Old wounds open. Physical wounds take longer to heal when cancer treatment causes compromised immune systems. Right now, I have a mosquito bite that’s taking its sweet time disappearing. I think it’s as equally true for the emotional wounds we experience. This includes wounds caused by hair loss. They take their sweet time, too.

Enhertu has caused this a dismal fourth time for me. It has thinned enough to see my scalp in places. It isn’t a total loss, but it is more than enough. More than enough to feel the anger inside. I still have hair, but my appearance has changed. I don’t look like myself. I look like an old man. I can just barely make the cut and not wear a wig. I’m not sure if I’d be more comfortable wearing one or not.

As I sit again with this loss, old feelings and new realizations have surfaced.

Old Feelings

Hair loss is utterly unfair.

Unfair sounds like I’m whining. So much in life is unfair. Everything in cancer is unfair. Let me share a little about how I feel this time. I went through something similar in January. It was winter. I wore hats outside and I didn’t socialize indoors. No one really knew what I looked like except for at my oncology appointments. Hair filled in by springtime. New hair is soft like a cloud made of down feathers. Somehow it provided hope in my life. It showed progress. It needed shaping but that wasn’t to be. Along with a switch to a different treatment, that softness began filling my comb each morning almost three weeks to the day of starting a new treatment.

And it just kept coming. Every morning there was more. It showed up on my clothes. Hair covered pillows. I’d find it in my food or in my mouth. It was everywhere except the one place I expected it to be. I was reminded every moment of the day what was happening. To be clear, I don’t need the reminders. I know I have metastatic cancer.

Hair loss is uncomfortable.

Many don’t understand that a person’s scalp hurts when hair falls out. How could they if they haven’t experienced it first-hand? My scalp itches like crazy. I am not supposed to use products to make it feel better because it may aggravate the follicles and cause hair to fall out. Yes, I’m still trying to follow the rules of scalp cooling even though I wonder if there is a point.

I have no control over it.

Loss of control angers me a lot. Losing hair visually mirrors the lack of control with treatments, efficacy, and side effects. I’m still doing PAXMAN scalp cooling as it is to spur faster regrowth even with loss (thinning, shedding). The cap fits me well. I manage the cold. As I said, I follow all the rules. I’ve made a giant effort to hold on to my hair.

And I can’t control it.

I can’t control cancer.

Hair loss is minimized by most.

“It’s just hair.”

“It will grow back.”

“You have some really nice wigs.”

“You have a nicely shaped head.”

“I don’t know why it’s bothering you so this time.”

Again, these comments come from people who don’t understand what it is like to lose hair.

I DON’T KNOW IF I’LL EVER HAVE IT BACK IN A WAY I FIND BEAUTIFUL AGAIN.

Please think about that the next time you feel like cheering me up with a helpful opinion.

It may never grow back and fill in if I am on some hair stealing treatment forever. But I have some really nice wigs. That makes everything better, right? The intent hopefully is to make me feel better. The opposite happens. I feel minimized.

It’s also possible these comments are meant to make the other person feel better. My hair loss is hard for other people apparently.

“I’m so sorry you are going through this again.” That’s what a person can say.

Identity issues accompany hair loss.

I don’t feel WHOLE without my hair. It isn’t about vanity. Something is missing. And it’s obvious. I understand I am more than my hair. Hair is part of a person’s style. You get to choose whether it’s long or short, colored or natural, worn up or down, accessorized or not, or even shaved. Chemo induced hair loss takes away those choices.

My confidence is shot. I don’t even want to go out to my mailbox because I don’t want to be seen, let alone have a conversation with my neighbors about how I’m doing. I recently declined a party invitation that I probably shouldn’t have gone to anyway because I didn’t feel pretty. I am not filling up my largeness and feel so small. The hair thinning has almost stopped. It’s super short with a few thin patches here and there. The damage is done. The anger remains.

New Realizations

Hair loss anger transfers to other losses of mine, and anger I still have about them. My mother suffered as she got worse and worse before she died from metastatic breast cancer. That feeling of helplessness and lack of control is overwhelming. Even though retiring early was best for my health, losing something that I had put over twenty years of energy into felt like a death. I confidently can say I was good at what I did. I touched lives positively and that has vanished. Some friendships have vanished too. I suppose I have changed. There are some mundane topics I simply don’t care about. It hurts to be ignored. Relationships change. I still feel cut off and isolated, forgotten.

Of course, there is anger for all the deaths caused by metastatic cancer and lack of more effective treatments. Over 40,000 men and women in the U.S. will die this year from MBC.

So, it isn’t just hair.

It’s the pain from the loss of my mother.

It’s the loss of my career.

It’s deep grief over the loss of my health.

It’s all of the things in the cancer world that I have no control over.

Hurt, frustration, fear, and sadness all bubble over into anger because cancer deserves to be called out for all it’s done. For me, it’s called out through hair loss.

It’s visual grief for all these other anger sources that have nothing tangible for me to direct the anger toward. My wounds take a long time to heal, if they heal at all.

Time does not heal all wounds.

Hair growth doesn’t either.