Quick – what’s the first image that comes to your mind when you think of someone with cancer? No hair, bald as a bowling ball, right? That might be cute for little four year olds, but not so cute for you. Losing your hair sucks – there’s no better way to say it. At the risk of being politically incorrect and perhaps even sexist, it’s often more difficult for girls than guys. Blame it on societal norms and expectations!

“Will I Really Lose My Hair?”

Maybe yes, maybe no. It depends on your treatment plan. 20051005a_rochester_0745Most, but not all, chemotherapy drugs cause hair loss (alopecia is the medical term). Radiation generally causes hair loss on the part of the body that’s being treated. Hair LossYour hair cells, like cancer cells, are fast-growing and divide rapidly. That’s why chemotherapy affects them. One positive spin is that those darn cancer cells are also being obliterated when your hair falls out. In most cases, hair loss starts about 2 weeks after treatment begins. For most teens, it will begin to grow back about 6 weeks after treatment stops. In very, very rare cases, your hair may not grow back as fully as before or at all. (But don’t worry about that possibility now.)

Here’s something you might not have thought about:

You have hair on other parts of your body besides your head. It too will probably fall out. This includes your eyebrows, eyelashes, hair on your arms and legs (girls – at least you won’t have to shave!), underarms, and pubic hair. The hair on your head will fall out quicker but the rest will probably follow.

Getting Ready…

  • Start by visualizing yourself bald. No sense pretending it won’t happen. Learn to love and accept yourself bald – it’s a new look for a little while. If you are comfortable with it – so will everyone around you.
  • Think about what, if anything, you might want to wear on your head: wigs, baseball hats, scarves, turbans, cool caps, your dad’s toupee. Go shopping with friends and try on every hat in the store. Every person is different – find your own unique style.
  • Many teens find it helpful to cut their hair short before it falls out. Not only does this save you from finding huge clumps of hair on your pillow, it will also psychologically prepare you for the change.
  • Some teens dye their hair just for fun. Think of all the possibilities!

Bad Hair Day?

If you’re like most teens, you’ll be on constant watch for telltale signs.

  • About 2 weeks after treatment begins, you will start noticing hairs on your pillow. When you brush or comb your hair, you may notice a few loose strands. In the shower, you might feel your hair becoming a little thinner or see hair on the shower floor.
  • Things can get kind of messy at this point – hair falling in your cereal and getting in your eyes. A real nuisance! Your head might be itchy and when you scratch it, chunks of hair come out.
  • This is a good time to consider the next step. Cut or buzz your hair even shorter. Have a Shaving Party with family and friends.

Here’s what Diane, 16 with non-Hodgkin’s, suggests:

  1. Pick a date when you and your family can all be home together.
  2. Have scissors and clippers from a hair salon.
  3. Call friends that you’d like to invite.
  4. Order pizza and food.
  5. Turn on the music and start cutting!
  6. Try different hairstyles – like a Mohawk, or a shaved head with bangs.

Maybe your friends will want to shave their heads too, to show their support.

OK – Now What?

Even after you’ve shaved your head, there might still be prickly stubble left behind. Your head may be very sensitive at this point and just laying on a pillow may be uncomfortable. You can help the process by gently massaging your scalp with lotions (rosemary oil smells wonderful!). One teen and her mom used “Nair” hair remover to get the last little bit of hair off. Now, you have to decide – to cover up or not. Make your decision based on comfort, style, and warmth (you’d be surprised how cold it gets with no hair!). You might choose different options for different occasions. Some teens get very creative and decorate their shiny heads with designs. How about the school logo for pep rallies? Just remember to use a mild soap or shampoo on your head. It’s very tender. And if you go out in the sun, be sure to use sunscreen. Sunburn is not a good idea!

And Finally…

You may be bald but you are still you.img_5361

Keep your sense of humor like one teen, who after losing all her hair, stuck her head out the car window and laughed, “Oh, how I love the feel of the wind blowing through my hair!” This is just temporary. About 6 weeks after your treatment ends, you will begin to feel your hair beginning to grow again. Like Melissa, 17, wrote in her journal, “There is no better feeling than to be able to run your hands through your hair and lather it up in the shower when it grows back.” Don’t be surprised if your hair comes back different. Sometimes it’s curly or even a slightly different color. You never know!