Cancer Survivor: Losing My Hair Hurt More Than Losing My Breast

A British broadcaster has claimed that she was so distraught over losing her hair during chemotherapy that having her breast removed seemed like a relatively negligible experience.

Victoria Derbyshire, 46, was diagnosed with breast cancer in the summer of 2015. The BBC journalist would endure six sessions of chemotherapy that caused about three quarters of her hair to fall out by the time the treatment came to a close.

“It was grotesque and I had no control over it,” she said of her hair loss.

Going Bald Isn’t As Easy As It Looks

The top of her head was almost completely bald, though some strands remained in place on the sides.

At that point, many breast cancer patients would have shaved off the rest of their hair but Derbyshire couldn’t bring herself to remove the final remnants of her usual appearance. This was a far cry from the “triumphant” moments other patients have described.

“I understand that it's supposed to be empowering, but I couldn't do it,” she told the Times Magazine. “I felt better having a bit of hair, even though it was gross.”

Derbyshire underwent a mastectomy but the physical and mental impact of the surgery could not compare to the outcome of her hair loss.

“Without your hair,” she said, “you don’t look like you.”

“I did like my breasts, for what it's worth, but in the great scheme of things it's no big deal. I just thought – let's just do it, let's get on with it. I don't care. It's gone.”

The Road To Recovering Lost Hair

Derbyshire declared last April that hair loss was in fact “the worst bit about cancer treatment for me,” which may come as a shock considering the many other debilitating effects of chemotherapy.

About 12 months after her last session, Derbyshire revealed that much of her hair had grown back to be even thicker and shinier than it was before.

"The point is, this is proof ... that once chemo is complete your hair does grow back and when you're in some of those dark moments during chemo you do doubt that.... but your body does slowly renew itself once chemo is complete and there's something really optimistic about that,” she said on her BBC radio show.

Chemotherapy-induced alopecia (CIA) occurs because the chemicals that attack cancer cells also end up attacking similarly replicative hair cells. It’s almost as if losing your hair during chemotherapy is a sign the treatment is working. Researchers aren’t sure why some patients don’t lose their hair but it likely has something to do with the type of chemicals used in the treatment and/or the nature of the illness.

Some Patients Might Be Safe From CIA

Some doctors might recommend cooling caps to prevent CIA during chemotherapy for certain types of cancer. The caps restrict blood flow to the scalp and slow down the metabolism of hair cells, keeping the cancer-fighting chemicals away. Two studies confirmed earlier this year that women with breast cancer were more likely to keep a significant portion of their hair if they wore cooling caps, though they are said to have a success rate of around 60%.

One breast cancer patient who wore the cap told the New York Times that being able to keep her hair throughout treatment eased her mind. Losing your hair, she added, makes you feel sicker than you actually are.

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