As I mentioned in my Side Effects from Chemotherapy page, I didn’t lose my hair from the chemo until a few days before my second round of chemo. A few strands of hair used to naturally fall out when washing or brushing my hair. A couple of weeks after my first chemo, the hair loss ramped up a notch so that it was a few more strands of hair than usual that would come out when I washed or brushed my hair. This continued for a few days but didn’t alarm me as it wasn’t large quantities and didn’t make a difference to how my hair looked. After a few days though, the hair loss went a little crazy. I had just had a shower and was trying to comb my wet hair, but the hair was just falling out – to the point that I filled the bathroom sink with hair. Seeing my hair fall out like this was a low point and I knew I couldn’t face doing this all over again day after day until there was nothing left. That was my last day with my own hair. My husband was a super star and had the unpleasant task of shaving my head for me that evening. Hair gone.
The last few days with my own hair:
Shaving Your Hair
For me, shaving my hair allowed me to take control of the situation, albeit just a little bit. When it came time to shave my head, there wasn’t a great deal of information available on how to do it. For example, should you cut it short first and then shave it from there?
I had really long hair so I pulled it back into a low ponytail and then plaited it from there, so there was a hair elastic at the top and the bottom of the plait. Simon then cut the plaited hair off – he snipped just above the upper hair elastic.
Now with the long hair out of the way, Simon was able to shave the remainder off.
Chopped Off Hair
I thought this was going to be really tough and upsetting, but I barely shed a tear. The worst moment was after the plait had been chopped off and before the shaving commenced; Simon switched the shaver on and the noise of this next to my ear freaked me out a little. He switched the shaver back off and I just needed to take a few seconds to take a deep breath and a sip of wine. After this I was good to go, and if anything, I was kind of mad at my hair – I remember saying “just do it”.
For shaving my hair off, I was told that a No. 1 blade was what I should be using so this is what I did. Any lower than this (ie. completely bald) and you are more likely to have ingrown hairs etc.
I washed and conditioned my head as usual every day in the shower after this as I didn’t want my head to get dry and flaky.
When I started to lose my hair, I was recommended to use a silk pillow case for sleeping on as this reduces friction and helps to keep your hair from falling out a little longer. I didn’t actually try this trick so I can’t comment on whether it actually works. You might want to give it a whirl though.
The silk pillow case is also supposed to be nice for once you have shaved your head and when it feels a little delicate from the chemo; again I didn’t try this out though.
If you do splurge on a silk pillow case, this would also help for when your hair starts to grow back in as there will be less friction rubbing off your new hair…bonus!
I was also recommended to wear a hat to bed once I had shaved my head as your head apparently gets cold. It was the middle of a really hot summer in Calgary so I didn’t try this recommendation either. I have just realized how bad I was at trying recommendations for my hair…LOL! Even once winter came around, I still didn’t try wearing a hat to bed as I didn’t feel cold and my hair had started to grow back a little. You might want to try this if you feel chilly at bedtime though.
Simon, and anyone else that knows me, would say that my hair was a bit of security blanket that I hid behind. I would agree with this, which is why I wasn’t over the moon about losing my hair. I knew I would need a wig as I wasn’t going to be confident enough to wear my bald head out proudly for the world to see.
There are some great services available for borrowing and renting wigs (check with your local health care service); however, the thought of a used wig creeped me out a little. I also preferred the idea of buying a wig so that I could customize the wig to be as close to my old hair as possible so no-one would know the difference.
I found a wig store in Calgary that specialized in wigs and services for cancer patients. Although I had done research beforehand, I wasn’t prepared for the wig shopping experience…it wasn’t at all what I expected. I thought I would walk into a room with hundreds of wigs and I could have fun trying crazy styles and things…not to be the case.
Before I launch into my wig picking experience, you should know that when picking a wig there are firstly 2 options to consider – real human hair or synthetic. For me, synthetic was a no as it wasn’t realistic enough and felt very coarse. Having made the decision for human hair, there is then a further option of European hair (way more expensive) or Asian hair (slightly coarser than European hair, but no way near as coarse as synthetic hair).
So back to my story (LOL), I felt a little duped into picking a wig to be honest. The lady showed me 1 synthetic wig, 1 real European hair wig, and 1 real Asian hair wig. The styles and colours of the 3 wigs were all wrong for me which wasn’t helping the situation. Anyhoo, the lady told me just to feel the difference and decide which one I preferred. Naturally, I liked the feel of the most expensive one (real European hair) as it was the closest feeling to my natural hair. I hadn’t lost my hair when I went wig shopping so I was able to compare the wigs to my real hair. As a side note, you should try to pick your wig before you lose your hair if your aim is to have the wig as close to your natural hair as possible.
After deciding that I like the feel of the real European wig the best, the lady went off to price the wig for me. When she came back, I about fell of my seat at the outrageous price that she quoted…we are talking more than the cost of a small car! I had already ruled out the synthetic wig, so I was only left with the real Asian hair wig (coloured blonde) as an option at this point.
After deciding the type of hair, I was left to decide which length of wig I wanted. One was shorter and one was longer than my own hair was. I found it difficult to decide which one would be best so I roped in my husband to put the wigs on (LOL!) so that I could see them from a distance. This was absolutely hilarious to see! It really helped seeing the wigs from a distance and I ended up picking the longer hair, with the intention of getting it cut slightly shorter…but I never actually got it cut.
The wig took 1-2 weeks to arrive. Once the wig arrived, the lady highlighted it to be more like my own hair. This turned out to be a disaster though and I absolutely hated what had been done to the wig. You are probably thinking that hate is a strong word to use, which I know it is, but I truly was so upset at how the wig looked. In the end, I had to ask for them to fix the hair colour as there was no way I was wearing it as it was. Second time around, the colour turned out much better and way more natural looking.
As the highlighting experience was a bit of a disaster, I didn’t want to risk having the lady cut the hair so I just left it as it came. This was a little annoying as the cost of having the hair cut was included within the price of the wig. Had I known that I wouldn’t have had the hair cut then I would have asked for the cost of the wig to be reduced accordingly.
Lace Front Wig
My wig had a lace front which would “disappear” when you put the wig on correctly. I would emphasize correctly, as it would be super obvious if I hadn’t quite got the wig on properly.
For placing the wig on properly, the general rule is that it should start 4 fingers above your eyebrows. If you have managed to master the 4 finger rule, then the lace front to the wig should sit perfectly and just blend into your skin so it isn’t noticeable.
Whilst the lace front can be a little annoying to get right sometimes, do not be tempted to cut it. You do not want to cut the lace front to the wig; this will fray and over time it won’t sit flat/correctly anymore, even if you have got the wig positioned in the right spot.
How To Care For Your Wig
I bought a wig care kit by Jon Renau when I picked up my wig. As an aside, I actually thought this was included with the cost of buying the wig, but I was charged an extra $100 or so to buy this! The kit contained a special shampoo, conditioner, hairspray (I never used this), Argan oil (super important to use this on your wig), heat protection spray, and hairbrush. The exact kit I purchased doesn’t look to be available anymore, but there is a similar one available online which has a blow dry balm instead of hairspray. The shampoo and conditioner are specifically for human hair wigs. I’m not sure if you can get away with using normal shampoo and conditioner, but these ones worked a treat on my wig and smelled nice.
The biggest thing that bugged me about my wig was that it would get knotted and frizzy throughout the day and would seriously stick out as a result and then look super fake. Closer to the end of my wig wearing days I discovered that I should be using Argan oil on the wig to combat this as no natural oils are on the hair to keep it smooth etc. I wish I knew about this trick earlier as this made a huge difference. Before you pop your wig on, spritz a small amount of Argan oil onto the hair and brush it through. You will likely need to do this again a couple of times throughout the day to keep it smooth and knot-free.
The paddle brush from my kit was really great at sorting out the knots – the bristles are really firm and just glide through the hair. I had several different hairbrushes before but none of them would have been up to the challenge of dealing with the wig hair as they were not firm enough. I carried the hairbrush with me everywhere as I needed to brush the wig all the time!
How To Wash Your Wig
It is a little trickier to wash the wig versus how you would normally wash your hair. Here are the steps I followed for washing my wig:
- First, I would set up an area next to the bathtub with towels for laying the damp hair onto. I would also set up the wig stand for using after the wig was washed. The wig stand that I used clamped onto the vanity countertop in the bathroom. I also placed a towel on the floor underneath the wig stand for catching all the water from the wig;
- Brush the wig whilst it is dry to make sure there are no knots in it;
- Using lukewarm water, wet the wig thoroughly. Hold the wig from the top and keep it straight to try and keep the parting where it originally was. Try not to get the hair tangled up;
- Squeeze the excess water out and apply a pea-sized amount of shampoo to the wig. Again holding the top of the wig, smooth the shampoo through the lengths of hair from root to tip, keeping the strands straight. Next apply a blob of shampoo to the inside of the wig, at the part that touches your scalp when you wear it, and clean it thoroughly;
- Rinse the shampoo out with lukewarm water, again keeping the wig straight so that the strands don’t get tangled. Squeeze out the excess water;
- Apply a small amount of conditioner to the ends of the hair and then distribute it through the rest of the hair with the paddle brush;
- Set the wig on top of the towel placed next to the bath and leave it there for a few minutes for the conditioner to work its magic;
- Thoroughly rinse out the conditioner with lukewarm water. Squeeze out the excess water. Place the wig back onto the towel placed next to the bath and gently squeeze out additional excess water;
- Move the wig over to the wig stand and pin it in place so that it won’t move. Now brush the hair and squeeze out more of the excess water. Next sort out the hair parting whilst the hair is wet. Once this is done, spritz the hair with Argan oil and brush it through again;
- Section off chunks of the hair, starting from the bottom, and blow-dry it straight. Once the hair is roughly dry, section off chunks of the hair again (starting from the bottom again), spritz it with the thermal heat spray and more Argan oil, and then run the straighteners over the hair to stop it going frizzy. I used GHD’s classic 1″ styler on my wig as these were the straighteners that I already had;
- Finally, leave the wig on the stand to dry properly overnight. Even though you have blow-dried the hair, it takes a long time for the wig to properly dry. It is best for the wig to just be left overnight to dry out naturally than trying to finish off drying the hair with a hair-dryer. In the morning, spritz the wig with more Argan oil and brush this through. The wig is now good to go!
Styling Your Wig
It was pretty hard to style the wig like I would usually style my hair. I couldn’t pull the wig hair up into a high pony tail or a bun as (i) the weight of the hair in this style would make the wig start to slip off my head over time; and (ii) it was really obvious that it was a wig – you could clearly see the side of the wig next to my ears and the bottom of the wig at the back of my neck. There was no way to hide the fact that I was wearing a wig so these options were a no-go.
Pulling the wig hair into a low ponytail at the base of my neck sort of worked, but I had to make sure that you couldn’t see the bottom of the wig. The biggest issue with my wig was that I couldn’t pull it tight against my head, so when it was in a low ponytail, it looked like a mushroom over my ears….LOL!
The best way to style my wig was with lots and lots of bobby pins. I always pinned one side away from my face to get it out of my way as it wouldn’t stay behind my ear.
My wig had straight hair, but I tried curling it to jazz it up a little a couple of times. I’m not the best at curling hair and my attempts on the wig weren’t really any better. The curls held their shape for a little while after I curled them, but then they just fell out. Lots and lots of hairspray would be needed to try hold them in place.
I didn’t wear my wig when I was at home; I would just wear a scarf/cover-up instead. My go to cover-up was a super lightweight merino wool tubular scarf, similar to this one. Once the scarf was on my head, I would just twist the remaining section multiple times and then double the material back over my head so that it as more like a hat. Once you have done this once, it keeps its shape so you can just pull it on and off as if it were a hat. This was really lightweight and comfy; I barely knew I had anything on my head.
For a snazzier cover-up, I just used a scarf. My auntie bought me a really beautiful lilac scarf with butterflies on it that was lightweight and perfect for this. I folded the scarf in half, width-ways so that you keep the length, to provide a bit more coverage so you couldn’t see my head through it. Then I would place the scarf on my head, at roughly the middle of the fabric, and pull the extra material tight at the back towards the base of the neck. I then twisted the extra fabric tight and pulled this into a knot so that it wouldn’t slip off my head. You should be left with a long tail of fabric beyond the knot. With the extra fabric, I just wound this around the knot and tucked it underneath so that the knot turned into a bun. This was a cute cover-up option for at the pool on vacation. Similar to my go-to cover-up; once the scarf was in a knot, I could just pull this on and off again without having to re-do the whole thing every time.
Now that my hair is growing out, I use the butterfly scarf as a headband to jazz up my hair a little.