A man, Crawford Clay, is seated and pictured with two labrador dogs.

When will I lose my hair during colorectal cancer treatment?

A man, Crawford Clay, is seated and pictured with two labrador dogs.

Contributed by Crawford Clay, Patient Support Navigator and Survivor

"When will you lose your hair?"

I must have heard that question a hundred times after I was diagnosed with rectal cancer. Some people were prepared to shave their heads with me. Others were just curious. My eight- and six-year-old daughters thought it would be fun. (Maybe a craft project—make dad a wig?)

With everything else going on with my diagnosis, losing my hair wasn’t one of my biggest concerns. But I’ve always had Napoleon Dynamite-esque hair, so bald didn’t seem that bad.

However, I know losing your hair is a big deal for many of you.

Hair does do some important things, after all, like keeping your head warm. But more than that, our identity is deeply rooted, no pun intended, in our appearance — especially our hair. Not only is it connected to your style, but also heritage, politics, culture, and more.

It’s one thing to say you’re sick, but it’s another thing to have something as personal and intimate as the way you look dictated by cancer.

I actually kept my hair during treatment, but I did I lose most of my eyebrows at dinner one night. At the end of it all, my kids were disappointed; my wife was relieved.

Hair loss or thinning is listed as a side effect for colon cancer chemotherapy, but it’s most likely to only occur for those on radiation or irinotecan. You may end up looking like Yul Brynner, but it’s not as likely as other problems you may encounter.

What’s Chemo Like?

I played water polo once. Whenever I got the ball, someone held my head underwater until I let go. Then I could come up for air.

That’s what chemo is like: it makes you miserable and then gives you a break. Then, it starts all over again. It really gave me an appreciation for what normal feels like.

You’ll be sick and tired—you can count on it. You’ll probably be cold, too (those warm blankets at chemo are so nice).

Additionally, many people experience an increased sensitivity to taste and smell. For almost a year, I couldn’t use the silverware at my family’s favorite restaurant because it tasted metallic to me. Some people also have food aversions or cravings. I met one lady who likes Vidalia onion sandwiches after chemo.

I also had a serious case of chemobrain. I could be out driving and forget where I was or how to get home. This lasted for months.

Some side effects, like chemo brain and neuropathy, can linger or even become permanent, but most go away over time though. Over the course of a year, my chemo brain faded enough for me to pass the Jeopardy contestant test.

Strength exists in the mind and the spirit as much as it does in the body. Many survivors find they finish treatment stronger than they began it.

Oh, and your hair will grow back.

Don’t forget, the Colorectal Cancer Alliance serves as a source of information about colorectal health. If you have additional questions or are in need of support, please contact our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030. 

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