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Survivors Say Losing Hair is the ‘Worst Part’ of Having Cancer

BBC TV and radio presenter Victoria Derbyshire has described the hair loss she suffered during cancer treatment as the worst part of her illness.

Ms Derbyshire, who has now been given the all-clear following a mastectomy in 2015, was left with tufty hair after chemotherapy and wore a wig for over a year to conceal it. In a recent interview in The Times, she said that losing her hair left her feeling powerless, and that she just couldn’t bring herself to shave her remaining locks off.

“It was grotesque and I had no control over it,” she told the newspaper. “I understand that it’s supposed to be empowering, but I couldn’t do it. I felt better having a bit of hair, even though it was gross.”

These are sentiments frequently echoed by cancer survivors who often find the visible signs of hair loss during chemo or radiotherapy to be devastating.

Victoria Derbyshire cancer hair lossCancer journey chronicled

Ms Derbyshire charted her breast cancer journey via a popular BBC video blog (which she also posted to her Facebook channel Dear Cancer, Love Victoria), which saw the journalist open up about her diagnosis, her first day of chemotherapy and her resultant hairloss. She told The Times that losing her hair was even worse than losing her breasts because “you don’t look like you. I did like my breasts, for what it’s worth, but in the great scheme of things it’s no big deal.”

A follow-up article in Hello! reported that Ms Derbyshire had six chemo sessions as well as 30 radiotherapy sessions, and that she was also able to have reconstructive surgery after her mastectomy. Doctors have apparently said there is an 11 per cent chance of the cancer recurring.

During at least three of her chemotherapy sessions, Ms Derbyshire wore a cold cap, a device designed to reduce shedding by chilling the scalp and keeping blood that carries cancer drugs away from that area. While the makers of the cold cap that she used – British firm Paxman – boast an impressive success rate, Ms Derbyshire appears to have been unlucky, though it may be that using the cap is what helped her to retain some of her hair.

Time and time again, people who have been through cancer describe losing their hair as one of or, sometimes, the single worst aspect of going through treatment. When pensioner June McLetchie from Kilmarnock lost her locks during chemotherapy she set out to launch a new service at her local hospital designed to help women suffering from cancer to come to terms with any hair loss they experienced.

She told reporters at the time: “The worst part of my treatment was being told by the doctor that I’d lose my hair in three weeks. I used to have long dark hair and when the chemotherapy started, I lost every hair on my head. I’m quite confident as a person normally, but it was a horrible experience and completely knocked my confidence.”

Family and friends feel loved ones’ cancer-related hair loss woes, too: when a tearful Gloria Hunniford recently spoke of her daughter Caron Keating’s death to breast cancer in 2004, she said “She would never let her little boy see her without wearing a wig.”

Cancer hair loss hard for men, too

Men aren’t immune, either, as Adam Packer discovered when his boyfriend, the noted gay and LGBT writer Dean Eastmond, was being treated for cancer in 2016. “That was a really odd day, when he actually shaved his hair off,” Packer told Victoria Derbyshire when he appeared on her Victoria Live show following Eastmond’s death.

“It started falling out in, like, clumps while he showered, and I didn’t really know how he was going to respond to that because his hair was his pride and joy… He just woke up and said ‘I’m going to shave it off’, and he took me downstairs with the shaver and I did the back, and he did the rest.”

Adding: “A lot of people brush off losing your hair when you’re a male cancer patient. It’s just, ‘Oh, men have bald heads,’ or, ‘Oh, you didn’t have long hair anyway so it doesn’t really matter,’ but it did. It really, really did.”


The Belgravia CentreThe Belgravia Centre

The Belgravia Centre is the leader in hair loss treatment in the UK, with two clinics based in Central London. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the UK or the rest of the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which are the largest collection of such success stories in the world and demonstrate the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time for our hair loss helpline or to arrange a free consultation.


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