How long will it take for my hair to grow back?

by Lorri Steer at Terrible and Beautiful
These posts originally appeared on my blog a year apart.  It is my pleasure to bring them together as a whole  for you today.  Be forewarded:  this is an epic post! But I know this is just the kind of thing I would have loved to see when I was bald and waiting for my hair to come back.  It’s been exactly 2 years since I finished chemo.  I hope this is encouraging for you!
After this article published, I got a comment from a women who has permanent hair loss from treatment.  Here is her comment:Thanks for sharing your story. Losing your hair truly is one of the harder parts of cancer treatment. There are now a group of women who are experiencing PERMANENT hair loss after receiving the chemo drug taxotere. Some of us have moderate loss, some have severe loss, and one member hasn’t a single hair on her head and she is several years post chemo.We are trying to educate others about this possibility and have started a web site. If anyone reading here is experiencing permanent hair loss after chemo, please visit the web site: http://www.aheadofourtime.org

We are trying to collect information to share with the drug manufacturer so that the side effect can be properly studied and people can be properly informed of this possible side effect before they undergo treament.


Hair (mine, not the musical)
The First 12 Months

“But the hair on {her} head began to grow again
after it had been shaved.”
-Judges 16:22

It’s the tell-tale sign of a cancer patient:  the bald head covered by a scarf or baseball cap.  It’s not the cancer that makes her hair fallout, it’s the treatment.  But the bare head, especially on a woman in our society, proclaims the silent slogan, “There must be something wrong” or perhaps up here in Boulder, ‘What a fashion forward young woman she must be!”

Not all chemotheraphies cause hair loss, but most often with breast cancer patients, the drugs that are used do cause a “down to the day” predictable hair loss.  This can be one of the most distressing things a cancer patient goes through and so today, I want to take your hand and share my journey with you.  You may not agree that bald can be beautiful, but I want to share the re-growth process with you.  It takes a long time, but in almost all cases, your hair will return.
Here’s a photo of me just after my mastectomy before starting chemo.  While beneath my blouse there were raw scars and surgical drains, a casual observer would have no idea I was a cancer patient.  But that would soon change.
I had already cut my hair a bit shorter than it was in preparation for the inevitable.  Many of the cancer books recommend that you perform a preemptive strike on your hair by cutting or shaving it off before it comes out. They say it saves you the distress of finding it all in the shower drain one morning.I spoke with a young man who was having chemo and he vividly described to me the day he was sitting outside working on his laptop on a breezy day.  He reached up to scratch an itch on his head and saw clusters of his hair begin to fly away in the sky.  Within minutes, he had none.
That’s traumatic baldness my friends.
I went the prescribed method of cutting and shaving.  I invited my girls to cut Mommy’s hair.   At first they were hesitate but quickly realized what fun it was to watch Mommy’s hair fall in clumps to the floor.  Emma was 11 and Olivia was almost 5.  Ellen, age 15, wasn’t interested in helping and Daddy, age 40, looked on in distress grasping a broom.  He finally joined in at the end and helped with the final shaving.
I choose to shave between my first and second chemo treatment.  I probably could have waited a little bit longer, but I wanted to have some time to get use to being bald before I felt really sick from my next treatment.  I was kind of excited to see what I would look like bald and at first, it was kind of fun.  I still had my eyebrows and eyelashes so it really wasn’t that hard emotionally for me.  Knowing that my cancer was so advanced, it put the hair thing in perspective and I was focused on being glad I could have a treatment that would give me a good better chance at survival.
Here’s a photo (above) from when we first shaved me.  You can search the blog if you want to see more bald photos, but I really wanted to focus this post on the re-growth process.  Below is a photo of me at the end of treatment last January.  By then, my eyebrows had come out and most of my eyelashes.  I was bloated from treatment and it was admittedly harder to look at myself in the mirror because I didn’t look like me anymore.  The faint eyebrows you do see are drawn on with eyebrow powder.  The only nice thing about all-over hairlessnessis no waxing of anything needed!  Too  bad we can’t put in an order for what hair we want back and what hair we don’t!  I would have ordered nothing below my lower eyelashes!
This first regrowth photo (below) is exactly 6 weeks post treatment.  Hair goes through cycles of growth and one of the cycles is resting.  You can expect about a month to six weeks before the regrowth will begin to show.  Do no be surprised if you continue to loose eyebrows and eyelashes after treatment ends.  I found out this is common and 4 weeks after treatment was when I said farewell to my last four eyelashes.
I was so proud of that 5 o’clock shadow!  My hair was always dark but many women have their hair come back with different colors or textures.  A common manifestation is “chemo curl.”  Sometimes it’s apermanent change and sometimes it’s not.  As I write this a year out, my curl appears to have been temporary and is almost all gone now.
The photo above is at 10 weeks out from chemo.  It doesn’t seem much different from the one above, but in person at the time, I could tell the difference.  It’s hard to look back at my bald pictures.  I had lots of complementsabout how pretty I looked, but it’s painful none the less.  It’s actually even more painful to look back at my photos when I did have lots of hair.  Maybe by this time next year it won’t be so hard.
Here I am (above) rockin’ it at 3 months post treatment.  I still was wearing head covering in public but I was getting excited to see more and more hair returning.  I believe Mother’s Day was the first time I did a little sunbathing at a public lake with my hat off for a short while.  PSA:  always use hats and sunscreen on your head- I had a huge brown patch on my head where my part had been over the years that I discovered while bald.
This photo (above) is almost 4 months post treatment. You can see what a difference from 3 to 4 months.  I was starting to just wear caps out of the house and was quite comfortable at home without any covering.  I loved how my hair felt and it was so easy to wash and go!
Here’s a mini snapshot of me last June, 5 months out. I was no longer wearing any headcoverings generally.  This is when I had my first “haircut” from my old hairdresser who showed me how to use some gel and a blow drier to give my hair some shape and direction.  I was surprised I could do anything with it being so short, but I could.  She explained that the first re-growth after treatment is thin and damaged so by keeping the ends trimmed, I could relax some of the curl as well as having it look more healthy as it grew.
Ginger loved me anyway.  Her I am at 6 months post chemo.  People were starting to think I just had a cute, sassy haircut and it helped that Posh Spice got a Pixie at the same time.  Yep, that’s me, Fashion Queen!  I was most excited that by the time the girls started school again that new people wouldn’t see me as “the mom with cancer.”  My eyebrows were filling in nicely and my eyelashes had all returned but were very short, about half of normal length.
This is now 8 months post treatment. You can see I have entered what we call “The headband phase.”  If you want to grow your hair back out to any length, be prepared for a long awkward phase in the right direction.  This is where we who have lived through it suggest every manner of lotions, potions and clippies to tame the wild beast.  Again, it’s a good time for another trim if you don’t want to sport the telltale, “Post chemo Mullet.”  About this time I believe, was the first time post treatment that I added highlights.  They took nicely and I was happy to lighten my hair a bit for a change.
9 months post treatment, here’s me (above) doing someMyspace photos of myself while cooking Thanksgiving dinner and drinking wine.  I love embarrassing my children.  You can see, I now have the Pee Wee Herman look.
It’s time again for headbands as my hair continues to grow at 10 months post treatment. Looks a little dorky, but it also finally is starting to look like real hair.  I took to straightening my bangs to make them look longer.  It worked sort of…I’m sure I’ll look back and thing otherwise, but it made me happy at the time.  I continue to get haircuts to keep the back trimmed so the sides can catch up.
And here I am 11 months post treatment just the other day, no headband needed.  We met some strangers the other night at a dinner party and I mentioned off-handedly that I had been through cancer.  Not only was she going through cancer, she was wearing a wig.  You know we talked hair!  It takes a long time, but you hair will return and once again be normal(ish.)  I’m back to shaving and waxing and buying expensive hair care supplies.  My eyelashes are full length once again and my brows need constant upkeep like a garden full of weeds.  My bangs are almost in my eyes and I’m thrilled.  I think it’s almost time for another haircut and maybe some color…
The Second 12 Months
I only remember two dates in my cancer journey: August 28th, 2007 and February 5th, 2008. The first date was the day I found out I had cancer. February 5th was the day I finished chemo.  You’d think the date I lost my breasts would be seared in my mind, but it’s not. Maybe the day I finished active treatment with radiation, but no. The date I shaved my head? Not a clue. The moments I recall, the dates I do not. Except for those two.
Today marks 2 years since chemo ended. I remember the stark baldness, no eyebrows and only a dozen or so remaining eye lashes. I remember being so bloated, pale and weak. It’s taken me almost the whole 2 years to start feeling like my old self again and not just because of the hair. Only in the last month have I been able to stay up much past 9 pm and that’s hit and miss at best. I’m finally feeling a renewed sense of energy but it really last taken this long.
Growing our hair back is an awkward process. I promised an update so, here we go…

One year ago in February, I walked the streets of Paris sticking out like a sore thumb. Not because of my senior citizen hairdo – it was the checkered jacket.Pardon-maaaa, who knew all French women wear only plain black coats and tall black boots. No one sent me the memo.
By March (13 months post chemo) my hair was getting longer and had nice body. As a matter of fact, I did finally ditch this sweater that’s in half of the photos taken of me in the past two years!
Back view – I was loving the way it took color (the natural state is black with touches of grey.)
14 months post chemo. Above last Easter weekend. Hair was getting to that difficult stage again, not short, not long. Welcome back headbands.
15 months post chemo in May, I was starting to love the length and style of my hair. It was long enough to straighten and do things with but still held a nice wavy body.
16 months post chemo from the back again. Feeling fine!
By mid summer, about 18 months out, I started noticing that my hair was feeling very dried out and over processed. It got a little too reddish as you can see above. I started getting very interested in the “No Poo*” movement and switched to sulfate free shampoo (more on this another post.) *an alternative movement where women wash their hair with baking soda and vinegar instead of shampoo thereby returning natural shine, balance and strength to one’s hair.
19 months with a very livable style albeit a little messy – probably should have kept a few more layers but I was a bit obsessed with growing it out. Got the color rebalanced and felt more natural.
Around 20 months I was to a length that would have been normal for me. It was fun to play with but still too short to put up or do much with. I kept getting trims and color and enjoyed wearing it straightened or natural with the wave that was left.
This was the golden time for me – between 21 and 22 months post chemo I finally felt back in love with my hair. It was the first time I could look at photos and feel happy. I looked more and more like my old healthy self and it made me so glad. Updos and ponytails were almost a reality. I found a knock-off “Wen” cleansing conditioner product at Sally Beauty Supply called “Hair One.” My hair started feeling so much more healthy and soft. Things were falling more and more into place.
It was a little puffy but so what! It was almost long enough…
For a claw!!! Thanksgiving Day 22 months post chemoI was able to put it up for the first time. I was thrilled beyond belief! I’m sure those clips are a fashion no-no but again, I was so happy, I didn’t care!
23 months post chemo on New Year’s Eve and ponytails were becoming more and more my normal style. Throughout this regrowth process, I have always been protective over the length of my bangs to a fault so that my hair has looked a bit sloppy and overgrown, but those who walk this road understand. My hairdresser knows how important it is to me to keep the bangs long – nothing says “Post chemo hair” like those impossibly short bangs we get!
And my most current photo taken in January this year, almost 24 months post chemo. I had styled it with the straightener for a party. I’ll get some up to the moment shots of how it looks down on a regular day in a while.  The only on going issue I’ve had with it beside the dryness were the 2 spots where growth has been the slowest – at the temples. Just now – in the last month – they are starting to finally fill in. Bangs help hide those spots.
So there you have it – a epic post on hair regrowth. I know we have a lot more serious survivor issues, but I also know how difficult and long this regrowing phase can be.  If you are waiting for your hair to come back, I hope you are encouraged.  It will come!

11 Responses to How long will it take for my hair to grow back?

  1. Darryle says:

    Love following your journey via your hair. For me the loss of my hair was worse than losing my breasts and I wish I had documented it the way you just have.
    I did document another milestone that was more recent—chopping off 14 inches—with a much better reason than I did it the first time— to donate for another cancer patient somewhere.

    http://blog.darrylepollack.com/2009/10/light-headed/

    But that seems far away to anyone who is going thru chemo right now–and I know they will appreciate your post. Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. Jo Jo says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. Losing your hair truly is one of the harder parts of cancer treatment. There are now a group of women who are experiencing PERMANENT hair loss after receiving the chemo drug taxotere. Some of us have moderate loss, some have severe loss, and one member hasn’t a single hair on her head and she is several years post chemo.

    We are trying to educate others about this possibility and have started a web site. If anyone reading here is experiencing permanent hair loss after chemo, please visit the web site: http://www.aheadofourtime.org

    We are trying to collect information to share with the drug manufacturer so that the side effect can be properly studied and people can be properly informed of this possible side effect before they undergo treament.

  3. whymommy says:

    Lorri, your hair is gorgeous, but you’re just as gorgeous without hair. (Since we normally talk on FB, I didn’t even realize yours had grown back!)

    When I see all those amazing pictures, truly all I see is your beaming smile.

    And now I’m smiling too.

    Thanks for this!

  4. lorristeer says:

    Jojo – thank you for the link. I’ve just read through your stories and I too had no idea that this could happen. The one friend I have whose hair didn’t come back thought it was because of her diabeties. I’m going to paste your comment to the body of my article so others can find you.

  5. jojo says:

    Thanks Lorri! We really appreciate you getting the word out to others.

    jojo

  6. Haylie says:

    You are so beautiful with or without hair. You are truly spectacular with a smile to die for.
    Thanks for sharing.

  7. izzy's mama says:

    You look gorgeous both with hair and without. This photo essay is an inspiration to me, especially as I sit here and watch my hair fall onto the computer. I am two weeks post my first chemo treatment and I am off to pick up my wig (though I am not sure I will wear it). I am trying to decide when to shave it off and what would be the last traumatic for my 6 year old son. Is it all going to fly away tomorrow or can I wait until Saturday?

  8. Liz says:

    Usually I just skim through these blogs and only read ones that -jump- out at me so I can get new ideas to try out and yours did just that. Thanks for this one – it is actually a real good read! Do you have a subcribe area so I can link to it to read more of your posts later? Let me know – thanks.

    Liz

  9. Jessica says:

    This was a good post…kinda makes you think you know.

  10. Those photos are really good. wonderful haircuts photos

  11. Rudy Arifin says:

    Stop Hair Loss and Regrow Lost Hair Naturally

    Posted by on 13 Jun 2010 | Tagged as: Uncategorized | Edit This

    The most common form of hair loss in men and women is androgenetic alopecia (also known as androgenic alopecia.) In men, this condition is male-pattern baldness is known, because it is a well-defined pattern of hair lost – during the time, form gives way to thin the line “M” shape. Hair not only resign, but also subtle, often progressing to total baldness.

    While previous research found hair loss is mainly due to increased levels of the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT.) causes, is not yet complete as the scalp DHT affected, but it is known that if a person is genetically susceptible to DHT loss Hair may start the process of so-called follicular miniaturization. This process may begin as early as end of puberty. Follicular miniaturization leads to more hair thinner and thinner until they completely lost.

    How to prevent hair loss and will be reversed?

    The good news is that you can prevent and reverse baldness. Since it is mainly caused by excess DHT is an obvious solution to reduce levels of DHT. This can be applied with chemically synthesized drugs or natural treatments.

    What drugs (such as Propecia or Rogaine), their efficacy is not universally accepted. In addition, the synthetic chemicals, have many side effects including gynecomastia (breast growth in men), erectile dysfunction, chest pain, blurred vision, etc.

    There are alternatives to chemical drugs?

    Natural hair loss treatments are an alternative to drugs of course. Their primary advantage is that they are without side effects. Second, treatments like Saw Palmetto have been used by man since antiquity. Someone had used, but has proven to be effective? Overall, I recommend natural cures for hair loss, natural ingredients, as the most effective solution for problems of hair loss.

    Saw Palmetto is a natural substance that reduces the amount of DHT was arrested, and so reverse the hair loss.

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