Head Shaving and Hair Loss Of Cancer Patients

June 7, 2011

The other day I was presented with a new hair cutting situation; a close family friend is currently undergoing chemotherapy for cancer and she has started to lose her hair (we will call her Claire, though that's not her real name). Claire had just undergone her second round of chemo and her hair was falling out quicker each day. She would go around with a bucket beside her and put the hair in that. She would find herself running her hands through her hair while watching tv, just pulling out the loose bits, occaionally getting a large clump which would give her a big of a shock. We all knew the hair loss would happen and I had said to her that when the time came for her to shave her hair off, that I would gladly come to her house and do it for her.
I went over a couple of days ago. She still had nearly all of her hair at that stage but it was falling out more each day. She has a wig already bought and she was just sick of finding loose hair everywhere so decided to shave it off now rather than wait for it all to fall out through the chemo.
We chatted for a good while before doing it. I had no idea what to expect emotion-wise from her in relation to this. I know some people find it almost a relief once it's gone, others find it to be one of the most difficult aspects of the cancer. To say it is more often a hardship for female patients sounds sexist but it is true as society rarely bats an eyelid at a bald man, and indeed, it is often considered sexy and desirable by future partners. We talked about how hard it can be for people, about the practise of tonsuring (which I wrote a blog post about before  click here to read it ) , about how society is one of the main reasons why women who lose their hair decide to wear wigs (their own self confidence and identity being the other big one). 

Claire had cut her hair to above shoulder length so I began by using the clippers to cut off all of the hair down to a raw blade / bare stubble. Once done she still had lots of noticeable stubble on her head which in itself gives a hairline frame to the face yet we knew this would go once the hair left the follicle so we decided to shave it smooth. She looked really good like with the stubble actually as she has very pretty facial features and a good jawline. I then lathered up her head and shaved off the stubble (I used Cremo cream as it's brushless and I didn't know how sensitive her scalp would be, and a Gillette cartridge razor as the head pivots and, though it clogged like crazy, it was pretty fool-proof against nicks). The shaving went well and she found it quick relaxing. I could tell the areas where the hair was much weaker and ready to fall out as the hair was practically just brushed out of the follicle with the razor, leaving a stubble free smooth skin. 
She was shocked to see herself at the end with a stubble-free head but, at least while I was there, kept up a brave front and said it wasn't nearly as bad as she would have thought. She was glad I could do it in her house though as the thought of having to go to a hairdressers to do it was too much for her. Personally I think she looks lovely this way and her eyes look so pretty!

When I got home I got to thinking more about this. I was reminded of a YouTube video I had seen about a little girl getting her hair cut to support her grandmother who had lost her hair through cancer. I had heard of Locks Of Love before and St. Baldricks too. The internet has so many video and articles about people shaving their head to support those with cancer, but what is more difficult to find is people talking about how they feel about doing it because they have cancer. This video made by a woman with breast cancer, is really good I think (it's long so takes a minute to load):
And also this article : Shaving cancer patient's heads
I can not relate to how this must feel. Unless you live through it I guess you won't know how you would feel about it. The cancer takes away the choice you have as to whether or not you have hair. It's not the same as shaving to support, you are shaving to pre-empt the chemo causing full hair loss anyway. 
The above image is from the great photo-blog entry which you can read Here: Carissa's Journey  . 
Again I find it easier to find blogs and videos of women with cancer discussing their hair loss then any with men discussing it. 
I can't begin to give any kind of informed information about this at all but I encourage people out their to click one of the links in this article, or watch the video, and learn a little. And I hope, that during my career, I can be there to provide this small service to others who might be in need of it and who are going through this experience. 
- BE 


lynda fryman said...

Hi, reeding this has made feed a bit more confident in broaching the subject of shaving my mums' head for her. She has lost lots of hair and only has a very fine fringe (bangs) left and some hair around the back of her scalp and although I haven't seen it she tells me that her head looks disgusting and she will never let anyone see it. My mum is 74 years old and has always had wonderful hair, in fact she has never gone completely grey, which has always made her look much, much younger than her age, so you can imagine how difficult this part of the process is for her. My mum is terminal and will never be cured but she is responding incrediby well to her treatment. Her primary cancer started in the breast and has spread to her lungs, stomach and bones, she is doing amazingly well, but the hair thing is a problem for her. I have offered to shave her head with an electric razor but she declined. She has told me that she would like to do this but doesn't feel able to do it herself and doesn't want anyone to see her head. So what do I do? I know I can't get bossy with her and I have tried to say that I can handle it, but her pride and also the fact that she doesn't want her daughter to see her so vulnerable just gets in the way. What do I do?

Barber Eile's Blog said...

Hi Lynda... Thank you so much for your heartfelt comment. I hope you mother is as comfortable as can be.
There are many professional wig fitters around who deal with cancer patients daily. They often provide a discrete head shaving service, and, if your mum is unwell, some provide a call out service. If you go to the hospital they should be able to provide you with details of these places. They may even have someone in the hospital who will do it in a curtained off area for your mum the next time she had to go for chemo.
They are professionals and will have seen this many, many times. I'm sure your mum will understand that.
Hair loss can be a source of great embarrassment to cancer patients but you must tell her how it is one of the few parts of her treatment that she has control over. She can chose to shave her head or to leave her hair on. It is her choice and you will help and support her with this.
I hope it all goes well.

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