Fortune Cookie Wisdom: Accept, Feel Better

A trip to my jolly dermatologist proved useful after all. My hair is falling out because of something gloriously juicy to say aloud: Telogen Effluvium.

This is a form of hair loss that is common after a traumatic event such as cancer treatment, surgery, even pregnancy, high fever, or a serious case of the flu. It is not the same as the hair loss associated with chemotherapy, though chemo may be contributing to the “trauma” my body has experienced. Basically, it is just serious hair shedding caused by a disruption in the hair’s growth phase.

Normally, hair grows from 2-7 years, then it chills for a few months, and then falls out to be replaced by a new hair. In my scenario, the 2-7 year growth phase was disrupted and the hair was pushed into its chill phase and now the fall out phase a little early and all at the same time.

The good news is that the shedding should end soon, based on how much easily fell out when the doc tested it. Also, it is pretty much consistent over my whole head so no bald patches will show. In fact, the doctor predicted that no one would likely notice (except me) since you have to loose 50% of your total hair before it becomes noticeable. He didn’t think that would happen to me. He believes the cold caps did their job perfectly: protecting the hair follicle from chemo circulation and preserving my hair.

More good news is that if the hair is falling out, it is already replaced by a new hair, though under the skin still. It should emerge shortly.

Hair grows about 1/2 inch (or more if you’re really healthy) each month so while it may take a while for my hair to be thick and pretty again, it should regain some volume within the next few months. It may even grow back wavy! Did I hear mermaid hair?!

The doc suggested I eat 2 servings of protein every day, 3 if possible, and make sure I’m eating food with lots of iron. When you’re healing from surgery or chemo, the body diverts vital nutrients like protein and iron to more important areas of the body that need repair than hair (things like heart, liver, brain, and skin). Hair is considered quite a luxury in the pecking order of nutrient allotment turns out.

Doc also said that Rogaine is a good option for me. Rogaine helps to grow new hair once it has fallen out. Normally, Rogaine is something you have to use ongoing because it originated as a solution to male pattern baldness. As soon as you stop using it, the hair it helped to grow falls out. Since I don’t have a type of hair loss that is ongoing, this isn’t a risk for me. Mine is a one-time incident. So, I can use Rogaine to speed up my hair growth but I’m not signing myself up for a lifetime of costly scalp treatments. My new hair won’t fall out after I stop using it because it is meant to stay in place on my head anyway.

While there isn’t anything I can do to make the hair stop falling out, making sure I have LOTS of good nutrients should help my new hair grow back quicker and in better shape.

So, first, I take big, deep breaths. Then, I eat a handful of almonds. Then, I keep doing life like a boss. It is very hard for me to feel helpless. But, I suppose learning to accept that some things cannot be controlled is a useful lesson.

Fortune Cookie Wisdom: Beauty Vol. 1

I really thought I was more down to Earth. I believed beauty standards were beneath me and that my self-confidence was housed securely in there with my intellect and morality, a place impenetrable from outside influence. My mom instilled early on that my worth was determined by my actions, not my eyelashes. And then they told me my hair would fall out. I lost my shit.

Of all the things to fear, how I looked should have been far down on the list but vanity reared its ugly head in a most severe way when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was devastated that, simultaneous to the myriad of torturous treatments, I would also be unrecognizable to myself. I hate admitting it but I was even worried about what my boyfriend would think.

Stripping away some of my vanity has been valuable, but I’m also proud I held tight to some of it. There is no reason to surrender feeling beautiful to this disease. And I won’t do it.

Below are some of the things I’m doing to ease the cosmetic effects of chemotherapy treatment.

HAIR

Penguin Cold Caps have allowed me to keep the hair on my head but it requires a strict hair regimen. You must keep your scalp totally bored during treatment to avoid aggravating the hair follicle. Human hair pH is between 4.5 and 5.5 which is alkaline. Even water gently throws that off so you have to jump through some hoops.

  • I only wash my hair 2 times weekly using Acure Repairing Shampoo. It has no parabens or sulfates and is pH balanced, as directed on the cold caps website. Opaque and volumizing shampoo and conditioner is not pH balanced. I really had to hunt for the pH of most shampoos so don’t assume.
  • Most conditioners were discouraged. I use it’s a 10 miracle leave-in plus keratin and spray it only on the ends (avoiding scalp). I tried Kenra Daily Provision but it left my fine hair greasy. It is pH balanced so it may be good for someone with different hair type.
  • I spray apple cider vinegar (an alkaline wizard for all areas of the body) on my hair and scalp after shampoo while I’m still in the shower and rinse it out only lightly.
  • I comb extremely gently with a wide-tooth plastic comb. No brushing, blow drying, or irons. I create pin curls if I need a style (but don’t use gel, heat, or hairspray to set).
  • I use only satin pillow cases to avoid friction while I sleep.
  • I’m only just now taking Biotin and Silica supplements but I wish I would have been taking them the whole time. They are to support the hair follicle nutrient-wise.

I have thin, fine hair to begin with so thinning is noticeable, but probably only to me. I just take deep, calming breaths whenever I’m combing and it seems like I’m loosing tons. I’ll be honest, there were tears over hair but I got through them.

I also prepared myself mentally for hair loss. My mom and I selected a wig right after the first treatment, just in case. If cold caps hadn’t worked, I knew just what to order from Candy at Parker Serenity Wig Spa in Austin, TX. I didn’t want to face this challenge but my mom made me and I’m glad she did. The wigs were gorgeous!

 

LASHES/BROWS

  • To keep my eyelashes from thinning I use prescription Latisse from my med-spa, Serenity Creek. I’ve had some thinning but probably only noticeable to me.
  • I also put Latisse on my eyebrows but they have thinned quite a bit anyway. Luckily, I can fill in with eyebrow powder and they look just fine.
  • Microblading is something I may try after chemo is finished while my brows grow back.

 

SKIN

My facial skin is very fragile and strange during chemotherapy and, like my hair, I had to abandon nearly all of my usual regimens. Luckily, I already had a long-standing relationship with Serenity Creek Med-Spa (Austin, TX) and they immediately crafted a new plan for me. I put my usual Retin-A, monthly medical-grade facial peels, and micro-needling on the shelf for when I’m well again.

To be frank, chemo has really affected my skin negatively. My hope is that I can bring my skin back to its original glory once this phase of treatment is complete. For now…

  • The week after chemo, my skin gets very acneic (while also strangely dry). I predict this is simply toxins trying to exit my body through the skin. My aesthetician recommended mybody Break Free Hydrator. It is a probiotic acne facial lotion that doesn’t have the harsher glycolic and salicylic acid I would usually use for breakouts.
  • Two weeks after chemo, my skin gets extremely dry and flaky. I use mybody myHero Ultra Rich Anti-Aging Cream.
  • I rarely wear make-up anymore but the few times I have I used Lush’s Ultrabland for removal. It simply dissolved even the most serious eyeliner without scrubbing. Being gentle is key…especially if you don’t want to unintentionally rub off eyelashes and brows. It is also super emollient so it helps with dryness but doesn’t clog pores.
  • Coconut oil is my wild card hydrator. It is antimicrobial and all natural so I can put it pretty much anywhere, even zits.  It also works as a great lube and mouthwash!
  • For body, I have always lived by Queen Helene’s Cocoa Butter Hand and Body Lotion as well. It comes in a giant quantity and is very affordable so it is a staple at my house.
  • I still go in to the med spa for monthly facials which usually entail a mild, superficial enzyme peel and sometimes a microdermabrasion. This helps get all the old, icky, toxic skin off so new, healthy skin can shine through, same as before treatment. I can’t wait to have nice skin that lasts more than a few weeks.
  • UPDATE – I didn’t have this during chemo but I sure wish I would have. This company, Hemp 360, out of New Braunfels, TX creates all-natural, raw products with high-quality essential oils. I’ve started using their night cream and skin repair lotion and I really love it. I also got my man the Man Jar and now he smells awesome! Good on curls…he’s a curly one.

 

NAILS

I heard chemo would make my nails brittle and could even cause them to fall off! Also, a compromised immune system means that even a hangnail can be serious so hand and nail care is an easy, important task. I can’t trust the cleanliness of even the most reputable nail salon with white blood counts as low as mine so I just do them myself while binge watching Netflix. #multitasking

  • I splurged on Smith & Cult polish in a moment of “fuck you, cancer” and I don’t know if I can ever go back. It stays put, even without a top coat, and the glitter is superb. Also, with names like Vegas Post Apocalyptic, it is precisely in-line with a breast cancer patient’s mood. Makes a great gift…hint hint.
  • I also use Sally Hansen’s Miracle Gel and it works great too.
  • To avoid any potential infections with cuticle tools, I stick to chemical means.
  • I keep hand cream in nearly every room of my house so I can slather it on a few times a day. A friend sent me Swedish Dream Seaweed cream and the scent is lovely.

 

TEETH

Horror stories of mouth sores and tooth loss had me panic stricken when I was first diagnosed but luckily, I have experienced none of that. However, taste is a challenge and I do notice my mouth is sensitive right after chemo. Also, some of the medicines they give me are downright awful.

  • I had read that bee propolis can help alleviate dry mouth and help heal mouth sores so I purchased Tom’s of Maine Propolis & Myrrh toothpaste before treatment. I don’t have any sores to heal fortunately so I can’t say it is doing what I hoped. But, my taste buds do start acting normally again after about a week following chemo so I’ll keep using it.
  • I grind my teeth, especially when stressed and it causes sensitive teeth and gums. I just ordered a super-soft charcoal toothbrush to try. This would make a great gift as toothbrushes are kinda strange to think about but would be a blessing for someone who had a sore mouth.
  • Biotene is a nice thing to have handy.
  • I swish coconut oil in my mouth if it feels dry. Just be sure not to stop up your plumbing by spitting it into the sink…this stuff solidifys at room temp so spit it into the trash instead.

I’m sure I’ll have a number of new beauty tips once we get to the surgery phase of treatment and I’ll update this post as I try new things. I’ll also be sure to post before and after pics of my hair and lashes.

Please share with anyone going through treatment and please also share your own tips for cancer fabulocity. I’d love to know what works for you!

Fortune Cookie Wisdom: Keep Going

Round 4 of 6 today. My head is frozen solid with my cold caps and my amazing ladies cancer team are knocking it out of the park. The oncology doctors seem very pleased with my progress and feel I make an excellent tumor mercenary. Also, everyone is dumbstruck I haven’t yet lost my hair! #penguincoldcapsrock I daresay today is going smoothly. #dontcountchickens