Cancer: Chemotherapy can make your hair fall out, but also grow in unexpected places – Susan Morrison

Chemotherapy is a strange beast. It can save your life, but sometimes at a cost.

During cancer treatment, Susan Morrison looked in the mirror and found 1980s' Tom Selleck looking back (Picture: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
During cancer treatment, Susan Morrison looked in the mirror and found 1980s' Tom Selleck looking back (Picture: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Treatments have downsides and patients have their own experiences. Online forums are great. People can trade tips to help deal with chemo’s weird quirks.

Sadly, I’m rubbish at side-effect advice. I was lucky. I got through eight rounds of chemo not too badly. In fact, I’ve had far more negative outcomes from my own cooking.

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My vision was temporarily wonky immediately after treatment, which made crossing the road outside the Western General mildly tricky. I worried about being bumped off by an ambulance I’d failed to spot.

Being whacked by NHS heroes in the hospital grounds would be such an embarrassing way to go, although it would be handy for my wonderful oncologist. She’d be able to rush to my side and shout under the wheels asking about any other side-effects they could monitor. They do love their surveys. On the plus side, the chemo pumped platinum into my system, so I might have been worth something melted down.

On the forum, Dee from Newcastle was in a bit of a state. You see, not everyone loses their hair to chemo. In fact, some women seem to get more of it. And most annoyingly, on our faces. Men probably do too, but let's be honest, that’s not a problem.

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Again, it was a side-effect I dodged, although it would have been difficult to tell. Always had an issue with a moustache, me. Didn’t notice it that much when I was younger. Well, I had raging acne to worry about. As I got older, it got darker. At the menopause, it got worse.

Breast cancer radiotherapy blasted away the left oxter hair, and then, oddly, the right seemed to go bald in sympathy. Then it all came out on the top lip. Valiant and constant battle was done with creams and waxes. Tweezers permanently lurked in my handbag for a furtive pluck.

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Like me, Dee had chemo. And the hair grew luxuriant. She faced big surgery and would be in the high-dependency unit for three days, just as I was.

You are largely immobile, hooked up to tubes that deliver oxygen and drugs, and take away fluids and waste. The ’tash can seize its chance, and it's not like you can order in an upper lip wax.

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Such bedside cosmetology is not a service the NHS offers, so that’s a no for nurses having a square go with a Bic razor. They’ve got enough to do, and actually, I don’t think they even notice. I’ve passed through their very capable hands five times now and overheard their hand-over conferences.

As my pal Carol, another stage four veteran has pointed out, we’ve never heard them say “Oh yes, she had a very comfortable night, responding well to treatment, but for the love of god, have you seen the side-whiskers and soup-strainer on her face?”

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I related to Dee’s anxiety. On day four, I was allowed to shower. I looked in the mirror and saw the 1980s’ Tom Selleck gazing back at me.

The purchase of a hi-tech laser zapper thing banished my hirsute fears forever. At last, I could weigh in with some seriously good intel for a fellow patient. It’s a small thing, but it helps.