Do you have no hair, thinning hair, or Covid hair like Monty the alpaca?
It’s been almost 10 years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. 10 years is a big milestone in the cancer world. November 8, 2011 was my last radiation treatment. By that point I’d already started hormone therapy. My breast cancer was hormone related. I had high levels of estrogen which caused the cancer cells to grow and spread. Hormone therapy drugs like Tamoxifen if you’re pre-menopausal and Aromatase Inhibitors for post-menopausal block the production of estrogen in your body. As with any drug, there are many side effects. The more common and serious side effects are joint and bone pain and loss of bone density leading to osteoporosis. And, there are a whole host of other side effects that are less common and no one tells you about.
Losing your hair
One of the most well known and obvious side effects of chemotherapy is hair loss. I don’t know anyone who has gone through chemo for breast cancer and not experienced this side effect. You know it’s coming even though you hope against all hope you’ll be the lucky one who doesn’t lose their hair. Then approximately two weeks after your first treatment, your hair starts to fall out. You head to a salon or barber and emerge with a freshly shaven head. It’s shocking. You don’t know how attached you are to your hair until it comes out in clumps in your hands.
You get used to it though. Some of us wear wigs, some of us wear scarves or hats, and some of us walk around bald. I admire those that can own their baldness. I think they look beautiful. It’s like their true essence shines through. I was not one of them. I ran out and bought a wig before I started chemo, and then I never wore it. It was uncomfortable. It felt like it was never on my head right. I stuck to scarves and hats.
The saving grace to losing all your hair from chemo is you’re pretty sure it’ll grow back when your treatments are done. You hear many stories of hair growing back curly or straight. In my case, I grew white peach fuzz. It was the weirdest thing. As my hair grew, it turned dark so there was a brief spell where it was dark closer to the roots and white on top. The opposite of your grey roots showing as many of us are experiencing right now! I guess, in this case, the pigment had to catch up.
Now 10 years later, I’m losing my hair again. I’ve always had very thick hair and now I would estimate it’s half of what it used to be. I first noticed it about 10 months ago. I started losing a lot of hair in the shower. It was frightening. After some research, I found out one of the lesser known side effects of taking hormone therapy is hair loss.
Although it’s not as shocking as losing all my hair at once, it’s slow and agonizing. Will it stop thinning out at some point or will I go completely bald? Will my hair grow back after I’m done with hormone therapy? Is it even related to hormone therapy?
The big question
The big question I had to ask myself: Do I stop taking the little white pills. Research has shown that taking hormone therapy for 5 years post treatment reduces the risk of recurrence. Now, they’re saying taking it for 10 years could be of further benefit. The medical opinion is if you’re not experiencing severe side effects, then you might as well stay on it for another 5 years or even for the rest of your life. Up until a year ago, I had little side effects. My oncologist recommended I stay on Anastrozole for another 5 years.
The answer seemed simple enough. Is it better to prevent a recurrence than have hair? Yes, of course it is. But, it was not so cut and dry. First, I’d been on the drug for more than 6 years. In talking with my family doctor, there’s not much evidence that staying on it another 5 years would significantly reduce the risk further. I know it’s only hair. I can live without hair. But, it does affect my quality of life, how I see and feel about myself. I’d like to say it doesn’t matter but it does.
Cross that bridge
I decided to stop taking the little white pills. If I have a recurrence, will I blame myself? Maybe. But, right now I’m healthy. I don’t want to dread having a shower every day. It’s been 6 months. Has it helped? I don’t know. I will say it’s not getting any worse. So, I guess it’s helped. And, I’m not afraid of having a shower anymore.
If I do have a recurrence and lose my hair, I will cross that bridge as many have one step at a time. And, I know where to get super soft bamboo headscarves. If I continue to lose my hair even after having stopped hormone therapy, then again I know where to get nice headscarves.
Now with salons closed for the last 75 days, there is Covid hair. Recently customers have started purchasing headscarves to cover up their unruly locks.
If you, or a loved one, are looking for a soft and breathable head covering, I have just the one for you in fuchsia, black, or teal.
P.S. Monty, Rocky, and Super Hero live at Pondview Farm Alpacas in Smith Falls. They would love for you to visit them when it’s safe to do so.
Until next time,
Colleen Kanna is a recovering Chartered Accountant and Breast Cancer Champion turned Fashion Designer.
She is the creator of COKANNA Canadian made bamboo clothing for women that’s all about comfort and style.
Colleen supports Rethink Breast Cancer’s metastatic breast cancer support, education, and advocacy work.
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