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Many people associate hair loss with chemotherapy, but, with February 4 marking World Cancer Day, blogger Laura Price tells us why she associates it with strength and inner beauty.

“Aunty Laura, why have you got no hair?” asks my three-year-old niece. No one else asks me that question, because everyone understands the meaning of a bald-headed young woman. I am a cancer patient.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2012, a month before my 30th birthday. For almost a year after my first chemo treatment, I had to get used to the double takes and pitying glances. Despite the occasional ignorant remark – like the man who shouted “chemo!” at me while I was walking down the street – people were kind and reassuring about my baldness. But the truth is that losing your hair to chemotherapy is entirely different to shaving it off à la Brit popstar Jessie J.

 
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Left: After cutting my hair into a pixie crop in preparation for chemo. Right: After shaving my head when my hair started to fall out.

Firstly, you have the emotionally painful experience of waiting for your hair to fall out. Secondly, it stops growing from below the root, so you end up with a polished egg look, rather than a stubbly rock chick one. The worst thing, though, is losing your eyebrows – often the defining part of a face and the slowest thing to grow back. A year after finishing chemo, mine are still a shadow of their former bushy, caterpillar-like selves.

I accepted the physical disadvantages of being bald because I had to. Now that my hair is starting to grow back, what bothers me is that people comment on the pixie crop, telling me it looks uneven. What they forget is that my haircut isn’t a fashion statement or a choice. It’s a side effect of the treatment that saved my life.

I was clear of cancer even before the chemo began – I was lucky enough to have life-saving surgery that completely removed the tumour from my left breast in time for my birthday. The six months of chemotherapy, two months of radiotherapy and the hormone-reducing drugs I’ll have to take for the next five to 10 years are just preventative measures. There’s no guarantee they’ll work, but it means that I have bigger things to worry about than my hair.

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Left: Wearing a wig during chemo treatment. Right: Enjoying a holiday in Vietnam with my newly growing hair.

As a woman, cancer forces you to get used to a new normal where image is secondary. That’s not to say that my vanity has gone out the window, but it does mean I’m delighted with my new pixie-do, even though I have a bald patch. As much as I envy women with beautiful, long hair, I’m just grateful to have my health. When I look in the mirror and see a completely different face from the one I saw a year-and-a-half ago, I don’t mind. It’s a reminder of everything I’ve been through. Like the ever-fading scar on my left breast, my new hair tells a story and I wouldn’t change that for the world.

 

Click here for another reader’s powerful real-life tale of living with breast cancer.