Chemo Took My Hair. Here’s What I Did About It.
Sabrina Skiles was waging war against breast cancer but lost the battle to keep her hair. Ever the fighter, she found ways to make peace with her new look.by Sabrina Skiles Patient Advocate
If you’re new here, my name is Sabrina Skiles, I have breast cancer and I just finished chemo. Wow. I can’t believe I get to write that. I honestly couldn’t imagine saying that when I heard I needed chemo almost seven months ago. The end just seemed so far away. But here I am, as surreal as it seems.
Something else you should know: Like a lot of people, I lost my hair during chemo. I will be honest—I’m not one of those women who feels liberated and free with her head shaved. I have had long hair for the past 10+ years. I loved my long hair. You almost never saw me with my hair up. That was for two reasons. One, I just liked the way I felt with my hair down: confident, free and beautiful. Two, I have psoriasis along my scalp line and in my ears, and I was self-conscious about that.
So coming to grips with losing my hair was superficially upsetting on one level, but deeply personal on another. It was my hair. And chemo took it. Here’s what I did about it.
Letting It Go
I started chemo on September 24. Almost exactly two weeks later, my hair started falling out. And it didn’t happen in clumps. Instead, it slowly started falling out, strand after strand. I would see some on my pillow and continuously throughout the day, which was heartbreaking. This was it. It was actually happening.
From the very beginning, my sweet husband Chris said he would shave his head for me and I love him so much for that. It made it a lot easier talking to our two young boys about losing my hair when I wasn’t the only one. Sure enough, three days after I started losing my hair, my husband shaved his head. He offered to shave the boys’ heads, too—but only if they said yes. They of course said no. We were OK with that.
That weekend, the boys stayed at their grandparents’ house, giving Chris and me time to prep for our big move from Texas to Colorado. After struggling for days with my rapidly diminishing head of hair, I finally just got tired of it falling out. Honestly, it was making me feel sicker than I really was.
So I called Visible Changes, my local salon, and made an appointment. I found out about their THAIR For You program which provides free wigs for patients undergoing chemotherapy. As I was sitting in the chair about to have my hair shaved, Chris asked me, “Are you nervous?” I told him no, I wasn’t nervous because nervous involves being scared, and it was not really scary. I was just pissed that I had to be there. And that, my friends, was the truth.
We were supposed to be coming together as a family to get ready for our move, and instead, I had to be there getting my head shaved. I was not happy.
I left with no hair on my head, but a brand new wig to cover that fact. I felt better. I wasn’t great. But I was getting there.
When we got back home, I showed my head to the boys, something I was so worried about because I wasn’t sure if they were going to recognize me. They both just looked at my head, smiled, and giggled with the sweetest little boy giggles. My youngest said I looked just like daddy since he shaved his head, too. That helped me overcome my fear and I was feeling better.
Still, it’s so hard to look at myself in the mirror, y’all. I honestly can’t stand it. Just like when my hair started falling out, when I look at myself without my wig, it makes me feel sicker than I really feel. It makes me feel like a cancer patient. And mentally, I’m not there. I feel like a healthy woman fighting cancer. Not a cancer patient. That might seem like splitting hairs (ha!) to you, but for me, attributing different emotions to these two descriptions has helped me navigate this difficult journey with some smiles.
Right now, I have a fabulous wig that truly makes me feel like myself. I know it’s not my real hair, and I’m OK with that. I know this won’t last forever. If something makes you feel like yourself and makes you happy, go with it. After all, now’s your chance to see what life’s really like as a blonde, redhead, or brunette!
Easing the Transition
Even though I’m at peace with my wig, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still miss my own head of hair. You can read about the effects of chemo all you want, but until you’re staring at clumps of your hair in your hands, it’s hard to imagine just how mentally hard it really is. So these are a few things I’d recommend to anyone about to start chemo for cancer:
Plan a family photo shoot. I wanted picture so I could remember our sweet family before something as big as chemo changed our lives. I also wanted to have some professional photos taken before we moved from Houston to Denver. I’m so glad we did—I smile looking back at these photos and they give me something to hold on to.
Buy a wig (or three) first. It’s better to have your new “hair” ready before you shave your head. I found it made the process of going to actually get my head shaved a lot easier. I bought several from Amazon just to have on hand. These wigs lessened the anxiety over what I would look like once my hair was gone, because I’d already tried them on and knew.
Ask about reimbursement. Talk with your insurance company about their policy on reimbursing chemo wigs. Some do, and it makes a difference. I wanted a human-hair wig but they can be costly. I held out until I finalized everything with the insurance and then I bought a beauty. Just remember, you have options and your insurance provider is there to help.
Schedule a post-chemo shoot. Chemo is up there as one of the hardest things I’ve gone through, and heck yeah, I wanted to celebrate in a big way when it was finally over. Yes, the family and I went out to dinner. Yes, I had a celebratory margarita. But I also scheduled an I-finished-chemo shoot and it was the perfect symbolic closure to a really rough chapter in my breast cancer journey.
I encourage you to find a local photographer and let them know why this is so important to you. Trust me, you won’t be able to stop smiling during that shoot. You deserve this. You deserve to feel on top of the world. Because you just finished chemo and that is something to celebrate, with a wig or without!