It’s been a while since I finished the rounds of treatments I had to go through to reach my current remission status. Today I will write about hair and the changes my hair underwent throughout the journey. (You can read me battling and surviving colon cancer stage 4 here)
Of course, I knew that cancer – and even more so, cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation – meant systemic changes to my entire body, including the hair. I was sad when my hair thinned drastically so that I decided to chop it off and wait for it to fill up. The sadder part turned out to be that it did not come back the same way it was before, it came back maybe about a half of the pre-cancer amount.
Of course, I realize, I should not be sad or mad over such small thing as hair. I’m alive, I’m well otherwise, I regained the weight (it’s getting to be too much of it in fact, that’s why my self-imposed juicing challenge to start up my food revamp without added sugars). I’m here, when so many of my fellow-travelers are not.
Of course, I am grateful for all this and I know I shouldn’t sweat the hair issue, but… being a woman, working full-time, needing to look presentable, mom of young children, I still sweat the issue and I try to do everything possible to make the hair growth after chemo better.
Hair loss during chemo and hair regrowth after
During the initial radiation and chemotherapy courses, my hair did not fall out, it just stopped growing and seemed lackluster and dry. But I didn’t even notice, being so preoccupied with saving my life. In fact it was nice to have to shave my legs, which I most probably wouldn’t have bothered doing that first year anyhow, but still…
Then came a year of recovery form that initial chemo, I started feeling better, aside from occasional overnight stays in the hospital due to bowel blockages (related to the colon surgery and the impact of chemo on the gut lining). During one of these stays, I had a routine Ct-scan performed and found out there was a small nodule in my lung.
The biopsy confirmed that it was indeed a meatastasis for the colorectal cancer and so came another round of chemo, a different one this time, a stronger and bolder one, one that would wipe out my entire system. Ironitecan, or as it’s known amongst the fellow patients “I run to the can” for its effects on the digestive system, is also known to have hair thinning or loss as one of its side effects.
I was prepared mentally and emotionally for what would come. Starting with the second infusion my hair would fall out in clumps in the shower. The next round three weeks later made my hair just float away in the wind or when I brushed it super gently with my fingers. By the fourth round, I had maybe 40% of hair left and I decided to chop it off super short and I bought a wig.
Man, did I hate that thing! I live in California and I started wearing the wig to work in August, the hottest month of the year! It was excruciatingly hot under that thing, maybe because I still had my own wisps of hair left, I don’t know. I just know that I was dreaming of the time I would have enough regrowth to ditch the thing for good.
But the hair was very slow in coming back. It took me half a year to be ready to show myself to my students and colleagues sans the wig. But when I finally could sport my new short do, it was so liberating!
Finding effective remedies to stimulate growth after chemo
Maybe I’m impatient, maybe I was mistaken, but I thought that the new growth would be strong and vibrant, kind of like a totally new hair growth, a kid-strong or young-person-strong hair.
Well, recovering from cancer, having gone through into early menopause by the radiation, and not being in my 20s anymore, all mean that that dream might not be achievable. The hair grew, but still at about 50-60 percent volume, thin and fine like baby’s hair, now also starting to gray (great, just great!)
Additional challenge in my trying to recover the length, volume and vibrancy of my pre-cancer hair is that I do not go the chemical way or some crazy “vampire” transplant way, but instead I opt for only natural approaches. Did you know that there are about 5000 different chemicals in commercial hair dyes thta cna cause cancer? Using them would be the last thing I would want in contact with my hair and body.
I want to share with you what worked and what didn’t (the majority of the “miracles” advertised on the web did not). So here is what I’ve tried so far.
Consulted with a naturopath: got ordered some supplements
Consulted with the regular doctor: got ordered blood tests for iron, ferritin, and thyroid health (all came back normal); and told to stop coloring hair (even with the semi-permanent dies)
Consulted with a hairdresser: got a hair-cut to maximize volume
Consulted with the Internet: got to try lots of more or less wacky “miracle cures” for thinning hair:
Soaking hair in fermented rice water: what a stinky mess! I did it for a month, didn’t help the thinning at all, but might have spurred some growth (length, not volume)
Castor oil packs (what a mess! Castor oil is great but very, very thick. It is impossible to wash out, so it needs to be mixed with another, thinner oil like fractionated coconut oil, sesame oil or sweet almond oil)
Raw egg with aloe packs (awful! Didn’t work at all, I tried it three times, no real effect)
Baking soda wash (Not good! It made my hair very dry and scalp itchy, and scratching your head is not a good idea when the hair is so thin and weak)
My Hair Journey
So, what did I stick with?
1. Got a shorter cut (shorter is better hairstyle for thin hair, it seems bouncier)
2. Stopped combing or brushing hair until it dries completely
Zinc, 30 mg/day
Collagen peptides, 11g/day
4. Started using organic henna powder for coloring (henna is amazing, not only does it color hair beautifully, it is also really conditioning for hair and scalp)
5. Pre-wash hair packs on the days I shampoo made with Ayurvedic herbs and oils. It’s okay to mix and match or try them alternatively:
neem powder and neem oil paste
hibiscus powder with yogurt hair mask
Bhringaraj and sesame oil hair packs for overnight as pre-wash treatment
6. Handmade conditioner for co-washing on days I don’t use shampoo (since I workout almost every day, shampooing my hair everyday would be too drying, so instead I go for two washes with just the conditioner, and every third wash is with shampoo and conditioner). My conditioner is made of Aloe Vera Juice, Rose Hydrosol, Black Cumin oil, Black Castor oil and essential oils
I also add these same essential oils to my Argan Oil and Olive Squalene Hair Serum (great for all hair types, not only for post-cancer hair)
7. De-stressing – easier said than done but stress has tremendous effect on the state of our hair. Anything to help with stress will benefit the hair as well. Stress is detrimental to our overall health, to the look of our skin and hair, and it is also crucial to learn to deal with stress when trying to avoid cancer or reoccurence. I’m meditating daily, taking relaxing baths, and doing breathing exercises whenever time permits. Here is more on de-stressing in another post.
That’s it for now. The process is still ongoing. I see a little bit less shedding in the shower. Let’s hope with the established routine. I’ll keep the hair I currently have and maybe get some more!
If you have struggled with hair care in the past and found some amazing solutions, please drop me a note. As you can see, I’m up for trying anything :)