Rosa Panadès was diagnosed with breast cancer at 30 and kept a blog about her hair regrowth after chemotherapy. Five years later, she talks about losing her hair, what happened when it grew back, and what it meant to her.
On a month like this five years ago I had gone through my second round of chemotherapy for breast cancer and the inevitable was happening: I started losing my hair. Or rather I started losing what was left of it.
My hair journey began as soon as I heard the cancer news. Up until then I’d had long wavy hair which I’d grown for years. Sometimes I thought about cutting but I could never bring myself to do it. Knowing that my hair was going to go I decided to take charge of the loss and make the most of it while I still had hair.
In the months before chemo I found a trainee hairdresser and tried all kinds of different hairstyles, progressively cutting it shorter. I then bleached it and finally shaved it off myself. By the time I started chemo I had a nice clean shaved head and I felt ready for the battle ahead. Cutting my hair before chemo was an empowering experience. I may be losing my hair to chemo but I was going to have some fun with it before!
To my surprise, I did not find losing my hair a traumatic experience. I wrote about it at the time. My guess as to why it wasn’t as hard as I’d expected was that, having been so attached to my hair for so long, losing it was somehow liberating. But I also think I just accepted the side effects of chemotherapy, because even if I didn’t like it there wasn’t much I could do about it. So I took it as part of the deal: you want to increase your survival chances? You have to have chemo, and that means losing your hair (besides many other nasty side effects of course).
What was more traumatic for me was waiting for my hair to grow back after chemo. And I dedicated a whole blog to it. This may seem a frivolous topic to some. After all, you are battling for survival so really should you be that bothered about hair?
Worldwide and historically, hair is part of many cultures and religions. Both for women and men it can symbolise group belonging, religious belief or a form of self-expression. To me, hair had always been an essential part of my identity. As a little girl I had long brown hair which I loved to comb, then as teenager I went on to bleach it, cutting it short in my late teens and dying it all sorts of colours (from green to purple to pink to blue). My early 20s were a time for dreadlocks. Then in my late 20s I went back to the natural look which I kept until cancer struck. Hair somehow symbolised different stages in my life. Having no hair was symbolic of my cancer self and that’s why I was so desperate for it to grow back.
Weeks 1 and 2 after starting chemotherapy
Ultimately, my feeling that growing my hair back was an important part of the recovery process was cemented by the many comments I had from women all over the world telling me how helpful they found the blog. I was not alone after all.
Getting my hair back represented getting myself and my life back, which I felt had been controlled by chemo. Hair regrowth signified going back to normal, whatever normal was going to be after cancer. But my desperation grew by the day as the expectation I had about how fast hair grows after chemo was completely distorted. I thought that in a month I would have a full head of hair. It actually took nearly four months for me to feel like I could go out on the streets sans head cover.
Weeks 12 and 16 after losing my hair
In the process I did all sort of things from buying caffeine shampoo, to rubbing coconut oil on my scalp, to taking vitamin supplements.
But really all I needed was patience and a bit of humour. Once the hair started coming back it was unstoppable and soon I had a full head of hair which then grew into a lovely curly mane. Month my month my hair grew and with every inch cancer was further and further away.
35 weeks, one year and two years after
And nearly five years on from starting the process of growing my hair after chemo, there is now something else growing in me: a baby! As I write this post I am halfway through my first pregnancy. A baby conceived only with the help of Mother Nature.
If growing my hair after chemo represented leaving cancer behind, being pregnant feels like the ultimate sign that I have truly moved on. As I concentrate on this new stage in my life, cancer and the fear of it feels more and more like a distant memory, an old chapter. Because this is what life is, after all, a succession of chapters: some good, some bad, some brilliant and some painful.
If my cancer did come back I would treat it as a new chapter not a continuation of the last one. Because now I have turned a page and a new chapter has started, possibly the sweetest one I have ever lived. And I am not going to let fear of cancer spoil it for me.
You can read more from Rosa on her own blog Hair regrowth after chemotherapy.
Vita bloggers' views are their own and do not necessarily represent those of Breast Cancer Care or Vita magazine.