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Hair Care & Co.

Feeling good even when times are hard

Being diagnosed with a disease is bad enough. If it is accompanied by the prospect of chemotherapy, it becomes all the more difficult to come to terms with and look to the future with optimism. In many cases, hair loss is one of the unpleasant side effects. For many people, this is the most serious side effect of all.

"Can you tell me if I'm going to lose my hair?". As if there was nothing more important at that moment. This comes shortly after the doctor has told the patient about her treatment plan for the next few weeks. Unfortunately, it includes regular chemotherapy sessions. For outsiders, the question about losing her hair may seem incomprehensible. Even a son accompanying his mother to the consultation for support cannot truly understand the issue. "C'mon mom, it’s only hair," he says with the best of intentions to distract her. The word "only" really doesn't do justice to the issue. For cancer patients, it is an important subject in many ways as well as an emotionally charged one, because changing their appearance is a major issue to deal with. 

In our pages on hair, facial care and sun protection, we have repeatedly emphasized how important their own self-confidence is to people. This "feel good" factor gives us strength and self-confidence. In everyday life and especially during life's more difficult phases, it helps us and generates at least a little optimism and some positive thoughts. Hair loss is not a pleasant side effect, and we each need to find our own way of dealing with it. First of all: Nowadays, no patient has to find a solution on their own or endure this alone. Help is available in many different forms – but more on that later. 

It will grow back 

Whether or not hair loss occurs during chemotherapy depends primarily on the type of therapy. Not every kind of chemo causes hair loss. However, it does often occur. The drugs used are responsible for this. Cytostatic drugs, as they are called, are administered to destroy the rapidly growing cancer cells and prevent them from spreading further. Unfortunately, these medications cannot distinguish between "good" and "bad". Because hairs, or rather the cells in the hair root, are also rapidly dividing cells, the cytostatic drugs also affect them. As a result, hair falls out and doesn't grow back for as long as the active ingredients remain in the body. 

As a rule, hair loss begins around 1–4 weeks from the start of therapy. How much falls out may vary. In many cases, patients lose all the hair on their head and gradually become bald. But there is good news that can help those affected to keep their spirits up: After the end of the treatment, their hair will likely grow back within 3–6 months. Sometimes their hair looks different than what they are used to. It may be curlier, fluffier, lighter or darker in color. However, this will also adjust and after a while the "new" head of hair will match the "old" head of hair.

Further information (German language) on this topic can be found here from the Cancer Information Service of the German Cancer Research Center. 

Examples of hair loss due to chemotherapy 

Anagen effluvium
Hair loss that occurs a few days or weeks after the trigger event. One example is when taking medication, and especially when combined with radiation therapy and chemotherapy. The hair follicles are damaged, causing the hair to fall out. Often, the affected person may lose their hair entirely. However, the growth process can then "recover" and the hair can start growing again. Due to the length of the growth phase, though, it can take a while for your former crowning glory to reappear.

Diffuse hair loss – diffuse thinning – alopecia diffusa
In contrast to the almost structured retreat of the hairline of androgenetic alopecia, hair loss is fairly uniform in the diffuse variant. Diffuse hair loss can have various causes and reasons, including medication, hormones, fever, and thyroid diseases.

Talk, talk, talk – it helps 

What can you do if you are affected by hair loss to counteract it? As we explained above, for the majority of patients the psychological effect is enormous. Hair is important to our personal well-being. The prospect of a bald head makes many feel desperate. For men, going bald is part of life. Very few bald men are asked whether they are healthy. This is not the case for women. For them, a bald head is synonymous with cancer and disease. This is precisely what the women affected by this are afraid of. They don't want others to see that they have cancer. At least, they don't want to communicate it so blatantly. Understandable – yet part of the problem. 

To start dealing with hair loss even before the therapy starts, seek out help and talk about your fears, worries and concerns. In addition to the important discussions with doctors and specialists such as caregivers and nurses, many practices and hospitals also offer the option of support from psycho-oncologists. Of course, friends and family also belong in this crucial social support network, and they will work together to help find solutions: from "it’s only hair" to "you've got this – no, actually, we've got this together". Encouraging, building confidence. 

Many people find it helpful to say goodbye to their hair even before the impending hair loss occurs. Taking control, being prepared – whether with a new short hairstyle, or by shaving it off ahead of time. In addition to the advantage of getting used to the change in your appearance in advance, it is less frustrating than finding big tufts of hair on your pillow when you wake up each morning. It can help both the mind and spirit.

The motto for creating a new quality of life and regaining your appetite for life is "Helping people to help themselves:" feeling better through looking good
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DKMS LIFE

DKMS LIFE

Every year, over 250,000 men in Germany suffer from cancer and they generally also suffer greatly from the impact of cancer treatments. This is why DKMS LIFE now offers a range of seminars focused on this target group.

More about DKMS LIFE here (German language)

Many self-help groups and non-profit organizations that offer help

Even once all your hair is gone, it doesn't mean you have to walk around with a naked head. Wigs, hats, caps and scarves help you to hide the baldness and still feel comfortable and "normal" during your hairless season. 

Wigs especially provide excellent support. Whether made from artificial or real hair: you can choose your own look. Patients often start from their normal look. They don't want any major external changes. What we’re used to gives us strength. 

However, there is also a completely different approach. A whole new look using a wig. As we described in our article about hairstyles and their effect, there are many very different reasons to change your look. The desire for a fresh start. Change as an opportunity. So why not do this already before or during chemotherapy? As a distraction during this horrible time. It takes courage, but whatever you decide: do what feels best for you. 

Accept help

Nowadays, there are also many self-help groups and non-profit organizations that offer help and support and provide hints and tips. In England, for example, in addition to the Cancer Hair Care organization, there is also Look Good Feel Better, which supports both women and men through difficult periods of cancer treatment. In Germany, "DKMS LIFE gemeinnützige GmbH" brings the "Look Good Feel Better" patient program to life. 

In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't matter how others view you, nor whether you want to learn tips for makeup and clothes, how to choose the right wig, and so on. Find the right help for you and accept it. You need to feel good, and that’s all that matters.

Please note: This information in no way constitutes medical or cosmetic advice. Consult your GP, dermatologist or pharmacist for further information and any consultations you may need.