Coping with Hair Loss
by Amy Gibson
Let me begin with the fact that not all chemotherapy causes hair loss; but if you are one of the millions of women on this journey, I want to assure you that you are not alone and that there are wonderful resources to help you manage the effects of your treatment.
I am a firm believer that having the correct tools in life can save hours, if not months, of frustration and heartache. Many times cancer and other life-threatening conditions can lead to feelings of denial, anger, and resentment—a combination that can make us feel inadequate and out of control. At these times one thing is for sure: if you have the tools at your fingertips and the knowledge of how to use them, you can make at least one part of your cancer journey much less difficult.
I consult with women every day who are either losing their hair or are about to as a result of chemotherapy treatments or other medical conditions. I am not a therapist, physician, or healer but rather a woman who has endured hair loss since I was 13 as a result of alopecia areata.
I was forced to keep my condition quiet for 20 years during my career as an Emmy-nominated soap opera actress. Through the difficult times, I have found ways to live a normal life without hair and still feel complete as a woman. I now share this knowledge—as well as the products I have developed—with women all over the world. Information is power; and in sharing information about how to cope with hair loss and how to find and wear wigs, I hope I can help all of you who may be struggling with this part of your cancer journey.
Preparing Your Hair, Mind, and Soul for Hair Loss Due to Chemotherapy
Many of us who have lost our hair feel a sense of great loss, the impact of which should not be underestimated. Many of us even find we need to grieve before we can accept our hair loss and be open to alternatives. Keep in mind that all of these feelings are normal. Hair loss is an emotional journey; and although there may be hills to climb, when you finally get to the top and are able to reflect on your personal growth, you will feel a sense of relief and peace of mind.
Also bear in mind that for most patients treated with chemotherapy, hair will grow back—although it may not always grow back in the same way. It may grow back curly if you originally had straight hair, or it might initially grow back in a different color—and we can never be sure of the timing or the rate of regrowth But most of the time, it will return.Once you’re through with your treatment, it will be important to nourish your hair with supplements just as you do the rest of your body. Different supplements—including biotin and flaxseed—have proven effective for different people, but nothing is guaranteed. The best approach to researching supplements is to ask what your physician recommends to support hair growth.
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Before You Begin Chemotherapy: How to Find a Wig and Feel Comfortable with the Change
First of all, for those of you who choose not to wear anything on your head, I honor your decision. Each woman must decide for herself how she is most comfortable meeting the world. Although I consult with women all over the country and have shown myself without hair in the media, including People magazine, I am still not totally comfortable in public without my wig—and my head is always so cold!
If you choose to wear a wig, here are a few suggestions:
- Before you buy a wig, have your hair cut as short as possible (you might even consider a buzz cut). This will make wearing the wig easier and a lot more comfortable, especially during the summer months.
- Keep in mind that you are putting something foreign on your head that will take some getting used to. It may feel hot or itchy, depending on what type of material is used for the base of the cap. For this reason it’s important to buy a wig with a monofilament cap. “Mono caps,” or “scalp top caps,” as they’re often called, are lighter weight, have more breathability so they won’t cause so much perspiration, and look like your scalp, with an actual part that gives a more natural look.
- I have tapped my personal experience and created a line of wigs called Amy’s Presence™ Coral Collection. These are the lightest wigs on the market, are made with a special cap, and include all of the qualities mentioned above. I also created the first women’s swim wig, which enables you to have an active lifestyle more easily while wearing a wig (although there are many other lines that may also suit your needs).
- The most important thing to remember is to listen to your gut and not necessarily to the salesperson, who may mean well but who doesn’t know you. Only you know your own needs. Women are extremely intuitive, and we always know what’s right for us—if we take the time to listen. When choosing a wig, try not to let your emotions get in the way when deciding on the style, color, and fit. This is important in making the right decision for yourself and one that will give you peace of mind later on.
- Make sure you’re in good, natural light so that you can judge the color correctly. Florescent lighting can affect the hue and not give you a true color reading.
- Synthetic wigs range in price from $100 to $800. They are the easiest to take care of because they usually dry faster than human-hair wigs and, if they are made well, will have “Memory Stay,” which means they return to their original shape when dry.
- Wear the piece for a while and consciously tune in to how it feels—this is most important because you’ll be wearing the wig for hours at a time. Luckily, we are capable of adapting when necessary, and for many of us this is a bit of a challenge in the beginning. Usually within a couple of weeks, however, you’ll feel much more at ease, especially when you realize that you’re able to leave the house looking perfect within minutes! This is the part I love most.
- Human-hair wigs range in price from $1,500 to $5,000, depending on the type of hair used and where the wig is manufactured. If made well, the wig maker/designer can match your natural hair color perfectly, and such wigs can be a wonderful alternative for those of you looking for discretion. Advise the designer that you are undergoing chemotherapy and need a lightweight wig base. Also be sure to request that they not put too much hair into the wig. No more than 5 to 6 ounces of hair is needed to make a shoulder-length wig. The most widely used hair is Indian or European, especially Italian.
Properly Maintaining Your Wig
If you want your wig to last and continue to look fresh, you need to take proper care of it. Purchase a good wig shampoo and conditioner. Regular shampoo may contain too much alcohol, which can slowly break down the wig. Wash your wig only when you feel the need to: when it starts looking disheveled, greasy, or dirty, that’s the right time.
I realize that when you are dealing with treatment, maintaining a wig may be low on your list of priorities; however, I believe that for many women maintaining the routine and glamour of their outward appearance can make a significant difference in avoiding depression. Anything you can do to expedite the healing process is a positive step during this crucial time. For some of us, that means paying attention to beauty rituals that allow us to leave the house feeling put together.
Keeping Your Perspective
Throughout the journey of hair loss, bear in mind that it is temporary. During times when my hair loss affects me most, I do two things: First, I force myself to get off the emotional roller coaster by taking a deep, conscious breath and then releasing the momentary fear. Second, I reminded myself of the things I am most grateful for or of the loved ones in my life. Somehow that always gets me through the challenging times and allows me to move forward. Keep in mind that transformation can happen in an instant. When we change our perception, we change our reality. I hope this information will support you and give you the tools you need to attain peace of mind.