PUBLISHED ON: 29 May 2019

Patricia’s long, red hair was a huge part of her identity. She tells us about her decision to shave her head before chemotherapy and shares some tips for managing your hair as it regrows.

Patricia shaved her head before chemotherapy

When I was approaching my 50th birthday, I found an area of breast tissue that didn't feel quite right. It wasn’t a lump, just a thickening. My doctor referred me for tests and in early 2018 I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). I had a single mastectomy without reconstruction. The surgery revealed three small invasive areas, so I was put on a course of six cycles of chemotherapy and a year of Herceptin.

I was carried along on a tsunami of love

I was incredibly calm and accepting when I was diagnosed. It wasn't the news I wanted to hear but I took it all in my stride. On some level it wasn’t a shock – my mother had had breast cancer, and I'd lost a very good friend to it, so I’d envisaged that it could one day happen to me. However, I know it’s different for many others who can be absolutely floored by their diagnosis.

I received a huge amount of support from my family and friends. I remember that one friend told me before my tests that ‘it would be fine’, but she also said, ‘and if it’s not fine, we’ll be there for you’. I was carried along on a tsunami of love.

The hardest part came after treatment ended

Once I'd finished my active treatment, the adrenaline which had kept me going seeped away and I felt weirdly flat. I'd spent six months being the centre of attention, with people sending me good wishes and presents and generally making a fuss of me. Then suddenly I was expected to return to ‘normal’, almost as if nothing had happened. This wasn't easy as I was still feeling the physical effects of my treatment.

I had always considered my hair to be my best feature

Patricia before chemotherapy

My hair had always been long, red and wavy. It felt like a huge part of my identity, so I knew I didn't want to go through the experience of my hair falling out in handfuls. I decided to cut it all off before chemotherapy and donate it to the Little Princess Trust. I felt good that it was going to be made into a wig for someone else.

I had a big party with all my girlfriends, we drank champagne and a hairdresser cut my hair. It was quite surreal, but I was determined not to let it get me down. I quite enjoyed the drama of being bald and didn’t mind having a crew cut, but I certainly missed my hair and my old identity.

I created my new signature look during chemotherapy

Early on in chemo, I came across a wonderful person, Emily from Bravery Co, who taught me how to tie headscarves in a really cool way. That became my signature look during chemo. When my hair reached the buzz cut phase, I got a local barber to cut a shooting star into my hair at the back - it looked amazing!

Patricia wearing a headscarf

Sometimes I get a jolt when I look in the mirror

I knew it was going to be difficult as my hair started growing back. It was uneven and I had bald patches that I had to colour in with eyeshadow. Now that it's coming in properly, it's a completely different colour and texture. Instead of the big, dark red curls I used to have, it is a greyish-brown and grows in tight, frizzy curls, like the texture of wool. I look like an alpaca, and not in a good way, and it's difficult to manage. It’s not a hairstyle I’d ever have chosen for myself in a million years. Often, I look in the mirror and wonder who the old lady with granny hair is looking back at me! The fact that my new look is not something I chose is the hardest part.

Patricia 6 months after chemotherapy

People I know don’t recognise me anymore

Now that my hair has started to grow back, even people I know well don’t recognise me straight away. It’s a difficult moment when this happens as it’s a reminder that I’m not who I was.

I try to remind myself that they don’t mean anything by it, and that my long, red hair is how people normally identified me. Sometimes I quite enjoy being able to go out and have some anonymity!

Patricia’s tips for managing hair regrowth

1. Try leave-in conditioner

A hairdresser I went to suggested using leave-in conditioner instead of conditioning it when I wash it. I've found that a combination of leave-in conditioner and hair gel controls the frizz a little. Cancer Hair Care also has helpful tips.

2. Embrace your new look

I can't deny that I struggle with my new look some days, but on better days I try to embrace it. During chemo I learned to go out with my head held high even though I had no hair, eyebrows or eyelashes, so I try to do the same now. Even when I'm having a really bad hair day, I look people in the eye and try to feel proud of what I've come through.

3. Try clothing looks that suit your new hair

Even though I would never have chosen my current colour or style, I make the best of it and try and make an entire look of it. I do this by dressing in a way that’s right for my new hair. Certain looks can go quite well with a short cut.

I’m drawn to edgier looks and find myself wearing leather jackets and big earrings and having a bit of fun with that. I hadn’t really bothered with earrings before because they got lost beneath all my hair, so I’ve dug some out that I haven’t worn in years and years.

4. Focus on the positives of shorter hair

There are some really good elements to having super short hair. For example, I never really knew where to put my hair when I was in bed – should it go under or on top of my pillow when I slept? Now, I don’t have that problem! It also only takes a short while to wash it, and I’m not worried about going out in the rain anymore. My first hair cut with short hair also only cost about £6!

For more hints and tips on adjusting to life after active treatment ends, download our free BECCA app:

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