A Journey with Breast Cancer, Part 2: Chemo Hair Scare

By Jeanne Romano

When I heard I was going to have chemo, I have to be honest… one of the first things I thought about was my hair.  We all have something about ourselves that we flaunt. Our eyes, our teeth and smile, our ass… maybe it’s all of those. With me it was my naturally thick, shiny, red hair.  My whole life I was asked if it was natural. I loved that.  In fact my mom told me that when I was a kid, strangers would stop us and go on about my hair.

I am sure you don’t need me to go over all the scientific reasons why we lose our hair.  And, if you’re anything like me the last thing you want is more info from the “experts”. I have been where you are and although this is your cancer, your chemo and your hair (or lack thereof) I am hoping my experiences with what seemed to work (and what clearly didn’t) will help out during this rough time.

You probably know this drill however it really is key; exercise and eat a well-balanced diet. I know, I know it seems like eating a “well-balanced” is the answer to everything. There’s good reason for that; it is the answer to everything. Remember, just because you are taking a great multivitamin (which you should anyway, not just for your hair, but for your cancer recovery) doesn’t mean you don’t need to get all the good stuff from your food.

Fruits and vegetables are great ways to get all of the vitamins your body and needs.  And once you have these vitamins, the hair can hitch a ride making it more likely to grow.  Personally, I ate lots of beans, which are high in both iron and protein. It’s important to eat foods that contain protein and iron, because they are both essential for the hair, nails and teeth.  We’ll talk more specifically about the last two in future blogs.

Apparently prenatal vitamins are believed to work wonders for both hair and nail growth.  However, this one can be tricky because depending on other medications that you may be taking, it’s possible that you may be prohibited from taking prenatal vitamins. My doctor did not want to blend my meds.  Since everything situation is different, it won’t hurt to ask.

As for exercise, it cracked me up when I was told I needed to exercise to decrease the stress in my life – really? Ya think? We all know stress is bad for your health.  What I didn’t know it that stress might prevent hair from growing back faster after chemo. So I tried to relax.  I was tired.  The thought of exercise (no matter how beneficial it was to relive stress) sounded like torture. I needed something simple and relaxing.  Like so many, I discovered yoga.  You might also check out a community center with a pool. I swam as often as I could.

  • I used T Plus Tar Gel Dandruff Shampoo Original dandruff-shampoo. It’s thought that zinc (found in dandruff shampoo) increases hair growth. Who knew? I never had dandruff, however I still use it … I’m sorta scared to quit.

    Walgreens T Plus Tar Gel Dandruff Shampoo Original

  • Horsetail.  I used both the lotion and the supplements. My oncologists suggested this herb. It was supposed to prevent my hair from growing back brittle and dry. I had good luck with it. My hair was neither. Of course with the all the other things I was doing, it was hard to tell what was working and what was a myth.  Horsetail is pretty easy to find, it’s real easy to take and easy on the wallet. So, why not.

    Zia Skin Basics Herbal Moisture Gel with Horsetail Extract

  • I massaged virgin-olive-oil-moisturizer into my scalp every day.  It made me hungry for crusty bread.  It also made my scalp very soft.  Like the Horsetail I’m not sure if it actually helped promote quicker hair growth — it didn’t hurt either.

    Olivella All Natural Virgin Olive Oil Moisturizer For All Skin Types

  • If you want to color your hair after chemotherapy – personally – I made this mistake. I should have waited the recommended six months to a year… Let’s just say “purple” was not a good look on me.

You will probably agree that once you’ve had chemo, there is no such thing as a bad hair day.  It did grow back. It’s a bit different. Not better or worse, just different. With a few easy adjustments and readily available and holistic ingredients I learned what I could do to give my hair follicles a fighting chance and so can you!