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Hair loss by Carly Appleby

Tuesday, 23 January 2018 16:27:42 Europe/London

stages of hair loss due to chemotherapy

No one can prepare you for the shock when your hair starts to fall out.

I have always had beautiful long brown thick hair. When I was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer last February age 37, it was one of the first questions I asked my consultant. Will I lose all of my hair? Yes was her matter-of-fact answer. Call me vain, but I think this may be one of the hardest things about my diagnosis.

I had read about cold caps but unfortunately my oncology unit didn’t have them when I started chemo. They do now.

I decide to have my long hair cut as short as possible. I want to lessen the shock once it starts to fall out. It feels good to be in control of something.

chemo patient without hair and wearing long brown wig

My hairdresser is more nervous than me. Her hand shakes as she cuts a lifetime of hair away from my face. We both know what a big deal it is.

I send my family and friends pictures of my new short hair. "You look younger!" exclaims my sister. I don't believe her.

I start looking at wigs. "How about a blonde one, mummy?" asks my daughter Flo. "Then you can look just like me!" I find strength in that companionship. Together, we settle on a short blonde wig. It even has pretend roots in the parting! Later I get a brown one too. There is some fun to be had in changing my look.

I also enjoy buying beautiful scarves and hats from Suburban Turban they help to make me feel young and stylish.

My hair clings on for two full cycles of chemo before it starts to shed. As each day goes by I start to hope that maybe it won’t happen. I wake up each morning and check my pillow for signs.

No one tells you how painful it is when your hair falls out. My scalp tingles and it is super sensitive. The tiny hairs get everywhere. I decide to shave the remaining hair off. I break down in tears when it is done. I don’t recognise myself.

It is not easy being bald and it is harder to avoid the reality of treatment.  It starts to become obvious that you are unwell.

We decide my wig needs a name. As it's made in Germany, Betty or Bertha comes to my mind. "How about Chewbacca" - from Star Wars - my husband chips in, helpfully. "Or Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy?" suggests my daughter, mentioning one of her favourite books. How we laugh driving home!

cancer patient wearing long brown wig

My daughter struggles to understand all that's going on. She asks me if she'll lose her hair too - and she doesn't want to see me bald. We decide to buy her a little play wig and she enjoys trying on my hats and scarfs.

Months later, I don't recognise myself in the mirror. Bloated from steroids, I have neither eyelashes nor eyebrows and I'm bald.

I gaze enviously at my husband's head and say: "I can't wait to have as much hair as you!" We both laugh. He doesn't have much, but more than me.

I get some weeks to recover from the chemotherapy before surgery - a mastectomy and auxiliary node clearance from under my arm.

On the day, I feel vulnerable about being operated on having no hair. I've been wearing headscarves or my wigs - we eventually settled on the names Betty and Brunetti. But I must do without them for my surgery.

I find it is easier to lose my breast than my hair.

One day, I look in the mirror and see my eyelashes have returned. It's a big moment! My hair is also starting to grow again slowly. It takes three months to get a short covering.

When my hair comes through it is completely grey. It is another blow when you feel so down about your appearance.

I take comfort in my headwear during this time. My hats and scarfs are my safety blanket and I wear them all the time. I find them more comfortable than my wigs which give me a headache and make me feel very hot.

I meet a lady in a supermarket who asks me about my treatment and offers to knit me a beanie hat. It is such a kind offer from a stranger. True to her word she knits me a beautiful hat that she delivers to my house. I am so touched by her kind gesture.

Seven months after I finish chemo, my hair is now boy length. It resembles a mullet and only appears to be growing upwards but it is coming back. I am still on Herceptin which I understand can slow down hair growth.

This in between stage is almost harder to deal with. I dream regularly of long hair again and then wake up feeling disappointed that it is still very short.

I’ve had people ruffle my new short hair and tell me it’s doing well. I’m quite surprised by this unwanted hair touching. It feels like an intrusion.

I can’t wait to visit the hairdressers for a blow dry or highlights. I know my hair will grow eventually and I have to be patient. In the meantime I can continue to enjoy my beautiful hat collection.


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Do I have to pay VAT?

If you are experiencing hair loss you may not have to pay the VAT on some of our products. Headwear we have designed and manufactured specifically for hair loss wear is exempted. ‘Standard’ items of headwear such as scarves, brooches, some winter/summer hats by other designers, skincare are not eligible. They have not been ‘adapted’ for special wear. The ‘status’ of items will be displayed in your basket, before ordering, once a short health declaration is completed.

During checkout you will be asked to confirm that you will be using our products for your own personal medical purposes.

It is a legal requirement stipulated by HRMC that Suburban Turban Ltd can justify our customers’ VAT exemption status. Please be aware that these details maybe verified at a later date.