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A Hair Loss Checklist: The Steps You Need to Take Before You Undergo Treatment

As women we tend to think about how others react to a diagnosis, sometimes putting aside our own emotions because we want to soothe others. We want to make sure they are all o.k.

If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, when you finally sit down and absorb everything, you know you need a plan. After all the medical decisions are made, and if chemotherapy is part of your treatment plan, you may be concerned with hair loss and what you can do about it. When thinking about their outer appearance, many women need a routine. It’s a personal thing. Feeling good about your outer appearance sometimes helps to maintain a more positive outlook. It can make people feel good to look in the mirror and look similar to how they did before the chemotherapy. Some women may choose to use scarves, wraps, or hats during chemo. Other women may choose to work with a wig. You have to go with what feels comfortable to you. My aunt, who had breast cancer, decided she didn’t like wigs. She chose to go without one. She felt better going natural. Now my mother, on the other hand, always wore her wig while undergoing her treatments — that’s what made her happy. Trying to keep up with something that was once just a part of a morning routine now becomes something more sensitive and personal. Patients need a plan.

If chemo is part of your treatment plan and you are interested in wearing a wig, I’m here to help you take the guesswork out of your hair care routine. I will give you an outline so it will help this personal issue become easier to handle. Sometimes a list of things to check off is all you need to help you know you are still in control! You – not the doctor, the chemo, or the cancer — are in control of your appearance!!

Find a stylist who can help you with your transition into a wig and then later out of the wig. What does transition mean? I use the term transition when I’m working with a client who is losing her hair and wants to work into a wig or a shorter style so it seems more gradual and not so abrupt. It will be seamless and less stressful for you this way. This stylist should be someone who works with wigs and can advise you on the kind of wig that is best for you. There are synthetic wigs, synthetic and human hair blends, and all human hair wigs available. The wig material is all about preference. Human hair wigs can be more costly, but all the wigs can look natural when styled properly.

  •  When you have your consultation with your stylist you can talk about your lifestyle, your budget, and your expectations — this will give your stylist the best idea of the kind of wig that will work for you. Try to do this before you start your treatments if possible. Ask your stylist how you need to care for your wig. Human hair wigs require more work when you wash them; synthetic can not be blown dry or heated in any way, you need to let it dry on a head-shaped form to keep the shape in your wig looking the best. Now my favorite part! I also help people transition out of their wigs. When you’re done with chemo, your hair does come back, and then it is time to deal with your new hair. When transitioning out of the wig, we need to deal with coloring, shaping, and working with your new growth. This can be the most frustrating part. When done right, you can look fabulous the whole time. Not everyone likes having to start with short hair again, but it’s all a process and sometimes people actually like their hair shorter for a while. It can be very beautiful when it’s shaped for your face.
  • You want your stylist to see your hair the way you wear it, how you style it, and what your hair color is like before you start chemo. Sometimes wig companies can match your color by having a sample of your hair. This is important for finding the best possible wig for you.
  • Talk to your stylist about how to make the transition work. Tell them when you are starting your treatments. You may want to transition between your first and second treatment. Sometimes it is very hard for people to deal with the shedding of their hair. You may want to get a shorter haircut if your hair is longer, which will prevent the longer lengths from shedding all over. You may want to cut a short pixie and then work with your wig, or some people prefer to shorten their hair into a tight buzz cut. This is a very personal thing. It an emotional experience. It is all up to you. You have to do what works best for you.
  • When you do go to see your hairstylist, you may want to bring a very supportive friend or relative, but not someone who is going to make the experience harder on you. Some people prefer to do this on their own. The choice is yours. Sometimes it’s nice to have someone there to encourage you, but you don’t want someone who is always a negative critic. They may mean well, but you don’t need the drama!
  • When you finally decide on a wig, try to stay with something very similar to your hairstyle. You want to make a smart decision. If your hair has always been super short, maybe don’t go with a long wig. Go with something you feel comfortable with. If you do want to shake things up and trying something new, you can work with your stylist to choose a style that is different from your regular style, but something that will still be flattering and comfortable for you. Most wigs can’t be returned, so you want to make a practical decision. You can always get something fun for Halloween!

Today, wigs are made so much better than “your grandmother’s wigs.” They feel lighter and look more natural than they did years ago. Wigs really can help boost your spirits.

I hope these tips were helpful.  Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns, or if you’re confused.

Christine Lafferty is a hair and wig stylist with over 18 years of experience. She began her career in Scranton, Pennsylvania and opened her own salon in 1995. In addition to being a salon owner, she was also a sought-after expert educating for product lines and beauty forums throughout the United States. In 2002, Christine sold her salon and relocated to Newbury Street, the Rodeo Drive of Boston, where she took her profession to the next level. She perfected her extension techniques and wig work. While in Boston, Christine discovered another passion in helping cancer patients and trichotillomania sufferers. Through the personal experience of her mother having ovarian cancer and her aunt having breast cancer, she took special interest in people who had very few options for hair care. She learned to help clients transition in and out of wigs, giving comfort and privacy while in the salon. Christine became a well-known authority on the matter and offered her expertise on hair and wigs to the author of Living Through Breast Cancer by Carolyn M. Kaelin, M.D., M.P.H. She has also been a guest speaker on the subject at the Trichotillomania Conference in Boston. For more information, please visit www.christinelafferty.com.

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