The Problem with NOT Losing Your Hair When You Have Cancer

Cancer, chemotherapy, hair loss.  Standard.  These three things appear to be inextricably linked which is strange because it’s not actually true.

There are hundreds of types of chemotherapy, all with different side-effects and hair loss is not always one of them.  Some chemotherapy’s cause heat in the body, which causes the hair follicles to open and the hair to fall out.  Some chemotherapy’s cause cold in the body meaning that doesn’t happen.

So why do people always connect the two?  I think it is because people have the ‘heat causing’ chemotherapy when treating breast cancer.  As Breast Cancer is the most common in women and the poster-child of cancers, this has become the ‘normal’ image we all accept and expect.

These ‘cold’ chemotherapy’s come with their own additional side effects, mostly in the form of nerve damage.  Your nerve endings become so damaged and hypersensitive to cold, it meant that I couldn’t even walk down the chiller aisle in a supermarket because of the painful reaction in my nerves.  If it was cold outside, I would be in pain.  If something was cold to touch, I was in pain.  I could not drink cold or room temperature drinks as the pain the nerves in my throat was unbearable and made my throat feel like it was closing causing a gag reflex – warm drinks were fine thankfully.

Of course you still get all the added, expected side effects like nausea, sickness, fatigue, digestive problems, insomnia, etc…  We all have these joys in common.

The problem with not losing your hair when you have cancer is that people don’t realise you have cancer.  Even when they know you do have cancer, it’s like they forget.  It can be genuinely shocking.  How you feel and how you ‘should’ look are poles apart which somehow creates a disconnect to the reality.  If I had a pound for every time I heard “but you don’t look ill???”  It makes it even harder to acknowledge the truth of what is happening, for others and for yourself.  Sometimes I just wanted people to acknowledge how crap I felt without me having to explain

“I am far sicker than my long flowing locks allow you to believe.”

I remember someone saying “How come you haven’t lost your hair?  Obviously your chemo isn’t very strong.”  Cue internal crying and tending to the metaphorical kick in the stomach, whilst outwardly I tried to explain the differences.

I am thrilled that I didn’t have to deal with losing my hair.  Obviously I can’t imagine truly what ladies go through when they lose their.  I would most certainly be devastated, feeling like I had lost an irreplaceable piece of me.  But just because someone doesn’t ‘look’ a certain way, doesn’t mean they aren’t still fighting their fight.

That probably goes for everyone and everything actually!


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6 thoughts on “The Problem with NOT Losing Your Hair When You Have Cancer

  1. So very true, for my bowel cancer I had capcetabine 5000 mg a day for 6 months and apart from losing all my hair ( it thinned) I had all the other “usual” symptoms. The disconnect for so many people in understanding that I was under going chemo but not losing my hair was very real. I almost felt apologetic that I hadn’t lost it! There were even occasions when I was at Oncology and waiting amongst other patients who had lost their hair that I wished I had lost mine too so that I fitted in with the perceived image of a cancer patient.


    1. Thank you for your message. Sometimes when I write things I think ‘what if I’m the only one who felt this way’ so I really appreciate you taking the time to let me know, I’m not! 🙂
      I know what you mean about apologising, it’s ridiculous but so very very true!
      Thanks again


  2. Thank you for writing about this. I have stage 2 primary liver cancer- hepatocellular carcinoma. My treatment for this cancer is chemoembolization and a full transplant. This type of chemo is not systemic, but rather the drug is injected directly into the masses. Hair loss is extremely rare. I have not lost any of hair and often times I find this seems to diminish my level of illness for some people. I too am glad I don’t have to experience this, as hair is a portion of a person’s appearance and identity. My body is already becoming foreign to me. Thank you for touching on this subject with grace. It makes me feel less alone in this!


  3. Thank you for this post. I have invisible illnesses, and get some silly/hurtful comments, as do some of my friends who suffer. But this is the worst terrible comment I’ve read about! Glad you beat cancer!!!

    (I’m linking to this post from my blog.)

    Liked by 1 person

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