The Dreaded hair loss!
This is probably the one thing that ALL women going through chemotherapy dread. The moment my consultant told me I was going to have chemo, my first question was not "am I going to die?" or "will it make me really sick?" nope, you guessed it, my first question was "will I lose my hair?", he replies yes and cue a hysterical crying girl.
That reaction I now realise is completely normal, our hair is a part of us, a part of our identity and also part of our femininity, the thought of losing that is horrific.
I have been through this experience and now that I am out the other side I can tell you a few things.
The dread of losing our hair is probably worse than having it gone. The initial shock of your hair starting to fall out is probably the worst stage.
I had been advised by my breast care nurse that my hair would fall out between day 17 and day 19, after having my first chemo. That didn't give me much time to prepare for becoming bald.
I had long hair, probably down to my bra strap. I decided to get it cut into a bob. This would take the weight off the hair follicles and hopefully it wouldn't fall out as quickly.
A week after my first chemo I then got my hair cut into a pixie crop, I cried when I was getting it cut but I surprisingly loved it!
This would also make coming out the other side slightly easier for me. After all it would be easier growing your hair back into a short crop rather than growing hair back down to your bra strap.
My nurse had also mentioned that I may lose my eyebrows and eyelashes. Losing eyelashes wouldn't bother me so much as I could disguise it with eyeliner of fake lashes but the thought of losing my eyebrows was a nightmare.
My eyebrows are very dark, I had visions of me looking like George doors, and I felt like I would have an expressionless face without them.
I found a fantastic beautician who specialised in semi-permanent makeup. I paid £150 to have my eyebrows tattooed on. This in my opinion was the best money I ever spent as my eyebrows did fall out, but I looked no different.
I also had my appointment to get fitted for a wig before I started my chemo. I spent ages choosing it; I then had it cut by my own hairdresser in a style that wasn't too far from my own.
I was given a few bandanas and turbans and chose two nice headscarves from the shop also. I then took all my purchases home, hid them in my wardrobe, where they would stay until they were needed.
The big day.
It's a Saturday, I have just woken up and Poppy has grabbed me by the hair and started pulling (no surprise there with a young baby), but today is different, oh yes you guessed it, its day 17, the big day.
Poppy has just proudly waved her chubby fist at me and it is full of a handful of my hair. I start to cry. The next day I have a shower and wash my hair. I get out of the shower and the whole crown and top of my head is bald apart from a few strands of hair.
I personally was shocked at the speed of which my hair started to come out. I think I cried the whole of the first day that it started but I very quickly grew tired of finding it everywhere.
It was always on my clothes, my pillow, the carpet but I drew the line whenever Jakob started finding it in his dinner. I very quickly made the decision to get my head shaved on Monday morning.
I personally found it more traumatic seeing every individual hair fall out, I knew my hair was coming out but I decided to take matters and the control into my own hands and get rid of it. Of course everyone is different and there is no right or wrong way to deal with hair loss but this way worked for me.
I figured that after my hair came out that was the lowest I would feel. In my eyes it couldn't really get any worse and I was right. I brought my mum and Keith with me when I got my head shaved, I stared at the floor the whole time and when I looked in the mirror I had a massive cry.
I then put one of my headscarves on and walked out of the shop into which felt like a whole different world. One were people looked at you with pity in their eyes and sympathetic smiles.
This was a look that I would quickly get used to. Part of me felt like flicking the finger to these people, they made me feel worse than I already did, I didn't want their sympathy, I didn't want to be that person everyone felt sorry for but of course I realise these people genuinely didn't mean any harm.
That was an awful day but I got through it by just thinking that tomorrow will be better.
I had never experienced hair loss and was very unsure what to expect. Losing your hair hurts, no one tells us that.
It hurts our head but mostly hurts our heart. My head ached, almost like a bruise; I quickly learned rubbing baby oil into it soothed my head slightly and also sleeping on very soft pillowcases helped.
There is definitely a sense of embarrassment with being bald. I don't know why I felt embarrassed but I did. I remember walking along the beach one day and my headscarf blowing off; I honestly thought the poor man In front of me was going to have a heart attack.
I think one thing that struck me the most was once you lose your hair you look like a sick person. People treat you differently but I certainly didn't feel any different (just more unattractive). I quickly got used to my bald head, I hated my wig, it was a hot summer during my chemo, that mixed with hot flushes from my medication equalled a very sweaty, itchy head. More than often when I was in the house I would have just taken my headscarf or wig off.
Jakob helped me lose my sense of embarrassment pretty quickly, he referred to it as "my baldy head", and he would boast to his friends about it and then beg me to show them.
Of course when his friends came into the house and I had no headscarf on they looked utterly horrified, in fact I am sure I was the cause for some of their nightmares.
During my hair loss I started to get very fed up with the NHS bandanas and turbans. I felt very isolated;
I just couldn't find any attractive, glamorous and comfortable headscarves that I felt good wearing. It was during this time that I started designing my own.
I sat at my mum's sewing machine for hours. I had never used one before and could barely sew a button on but it gave me something else to focus on rather than my cancer.
I finally came up with a design I was happy with, bought some different material and made a few up to wear. I was really surprised how many compliments I got, especially from other people going through treatment.
I started getting requests from people to make headscarves for them. I loved meeting other people going through treatment; each person has a different story to tell. After a few months I decided that I would focus on turning my idea into a business.
So I set up my website www.headscarvesbyciara.co.uk and gave up my full time job.
I now see people via appointment also. All my headscarves are made to order and also made to measure. I have only ever had fantastic feedback.
I then started to expand into children's headscarves, headscarf accessories and am now adding silk pillowcases and jewellery to my website.
My business has been a huge positive to come out of a massive negative.
I always think "to know the road ahead, ask those coming back", I am lucky enough to meet people at the start of their journey, when they are scared and unsure of what the future will hold.
I like to think that i give them faith that things will be ok and they will get through it.
If someone had told me two years ago that I would have a double mastectomy at 26, breast cancer and chemo at 27 and a radical hysterectomy at 28 I would probably ask them to shoot me, but I am living proof that life does go on and people find an inner strength that they never knew they had.
We have cancer, cancer does not have us...
Next week I will be giving advice on how to deal with appointments, this may seem like a "no brainer" but it can be much more confusing than you think.