Cancer Blog - Episode 21: Wigs and Hair Loss

Updated: May 10, 2021

A couple of days ago I decided to post a picture of myself, digitally enhanced, admittedly, wearing my official ‘posh’ wig, on social media. Here’s why:


Ask most people what cancer treatment means and they’ll tell you sickness, fatigue and hair loss. That’s the stereotype, the poster campaign, and usually, the thing that most people fear when they hear they have cancer and will need chemotherapy. Apart from the not wanting to die thing, obviously. Hair loss, especially for women, is a massive mental battle - it taps into so many of our fears - our sense of identity, the outside representation of the person we want to show society, our femininity, our hair is literally our crowning glory.


For me, the prospect of losing my hair is less about the loss and more about not having people pity me or ask me directly about it. I’m a private person, I don’t give a damn what you think of my appearance, but I do want to control the message I give to society about who I am, and not have that choice taken away. Nor do I want strangers writing their own scripts about me, this is my story and I’ll tell it however I want to. Now I know me, and I know that there is no way on earth that I could tolerate a cold cap tightly round my head during chemotherapy, the sensory overload would be far too much. So I knew straight away that wouldn’t be an option. I have the greatest respect for women who do go through it, but you have to do what’s right for you. I also knew that headscarves wouldn’t be my thing either, far too fandangled for my non-nonsense style.


Wigtime

So wigs it is. Wigs and hats. Just so you know, I hate the word ‘wig’ with a passion. Darcey and I tried to come up with an alternative, but all of the fake hair words are stupid, so we gave up after ‘postiche’ and grudgingly accepted the W word into our lives. My plan is to wait for chemo to start (which should have been 2 weeks ago, but if you’re following my story you’ll know that there has been something of a hitch with my bonus second cancer diagnosis, so chemo is on hold for a bit) and then, when my hair does start falling out, usually day 13 of chemo or thereabouts, to shave the lot off and then cycle through my options of wig/hat/bald, depending on my need/mood/courage. I do tend to get to the “fuck this” point of any endeavour quite quickly in most areas of my life, so I am fully expecting that I will go bald and proud a lot of the time, but for now, I need to have options.


My first forays into wig purchasing didn't go well. I wanted to try some out, just to get used to the idea, so I ordered a couple of cheap wigs from Amazon. What arrived were not the beautifully sculpted, styled pixie cuts I aspired to, but two dead badgers in a cardboard envelope. No matter how I tried to revive them, by shaking, brushing, scrunching, backcombing or flattening, they still refused to bear any resemblance to the images on my Amazon order. In fact, they were so far from their marketing shots, that I wasn’t sure which one was which. I did try them on, or course I did, but I looked like a Dick Emery character in one, and Myra Hindley in a wind tunnel, in the other, To be honest, I was heartbroken. I would be a laughing stock. This was a total disaster and I hated, hated, hated everything about stupid fucking wigs and stupid fucking cancer.


My daughter came into the room and with the kindness borne of the purest heart, told me they looked OK, actually. They didn't, but she threw everything she had into making it better. We decided the styles were wrong, and that I should try a couple more, one longer and one shorter, thinner, and less like a hairy arse. A few days later they arrived and one of them, the shorter one, wasn’t actually that awful. I looked like Sally Webster in a 60s throwback night out, and it didn’t really suit me, but at least it looked human rather than forest-dweller. The other one was shoulder length and curly and seriously, even Shirley Temple would have looked like a absolute twat in it.


Professional Help

There was nothing else for it, I needed professional help. That sounds like I really wanted a wig. I didn’t, I still don’t, I hate the reasons why I need one, but I know I need that piece of armour in my arsenal, for the days when I need to look ‘normal’. The NHS do a scheme for cancer patients where they pay something in the region of £100-£120 towards a decent wig. How the scheme works varies in different areas, but in my neck of the woods there are a selection of local suppliers to choose from, and when you find the wig you want, the NHS send a voucher to the salon. If you want one that costs more, you pay the difference.


There were 2 near me, I googled them. I had already discarded one other place.called 'Here Wiggo'. Seriously? I love a pun as much as the next woman, but basing your business on cancer puns, was never going to be a winner. So of the two contenders, the first one, Oscars, was a tiny, dirty half shop next to what looked like a brothel in a part of town I’d never been to. The tiny window was packed full of wigs on faded polystyrene heads, that looked, from the style and decor, like they had been there since the 1970s. A small sign on the door declared that Oscars (no apostrophe) had been a specialist wig suppleirs (their typo, not mine) for over 30 years, and I’m thinking a fair bit longer than that. They didnt have a website, or email address, and there was no parking. In all, it looked like a front for something extremely sinister. Oscar, I decided, wore a stained velvet jacket, smoked a cheroot, spoke in a thin, reedy nasal voice and murdered people in his spare time. With hemlock probably.


Normality