Cancer and the Chrome Dome: How Hair Loss During Treatment Affects Men

Since my first beautiful chops grew in during my 8th grade year, I have prided myself on my ability to grow immaculate facial hair. During high school and following years, it was my sideburns and later on the goatee to go with it. By the time I was 24, it was the beard. Oh, the beard: beautiful, rich, and bushy. It was a part of me, a part of who I was. If you mentioned me by definition, you mentioned the beard.

By 29 I was bald. Mostly on purpose, as I keep my head shaved due to a ridiculous receding hairline. So not having hair on the top of my head was nothing new to me. However, the fall after I turned 29 I would learn exactly how bald a man can get. I was diagnosed with late stage testicular cancer in the fall of 2012. What followed the diagnosis were three surgeries, numerous hospital stays, and four months of chemotherapy.

As I started treatment, I prepared myself for the changes that would happen to my body. I accepted the probable side effects that I would either lose a bunch of weight or gain a bunch of weight, the fatigue, the nausea. And I prepared myself for the loss of my beloved beard.

I still I did not expect to be so emotional about the day the beard came off. It came one morning after I woke up and was rubbing my face to wake myself up. When I pulled my hand away, there was a huge mass of beard in my palm. That’s when I cried. I knew it was coming, but still, it hurt me in a way I didn’t expect. Later I would go ahead and take a razor to my face and say goodbye to it.

The second emotional hair moment came not too long after this. Waking up one morning and getting ready for my day, I noticed something strange with the bed sheets. Little hairs all over the place. I rubbed my leg and watched even more gather on the linen beneath the leg. That’s when I realized that I was going to lose a lot more than just the beard.

As a guy, especially one approaching middle age, it’s expected that I have a certain amount of body hair: armpits, nose, ears, legs, arms, privates. It’s part of being male. But losing it all felt… odd, to say the least. Every inch of my body was now smooth as a freshly waxed floor. Every shower I took it got worse and worse. And this was a mere month into my treatment.

As a man, I grew up like most others hearing phrases like “That will put some hair on your chest” and having friends brag about having armpit hair before me. I saw men at the pool who were covered in hair and thought “That is a true man right there.” It’s unfortunate, but it’s how most of us have been raised. So when you lose this basic part of your perception of masculinity, it is deflating.

I wish I had known that even as a bald guy, I would lose so much more than just my facial hair. It was a tough part of the side-effects that I had not considered at all. It was hard enough being so weak, so sick, so tired. I couldn’t even make a short walk to get my kids off the school bus or help my wife carry clothes upstairs. I felt emasculated enough without this loss too.

Of course, after treatment was over and the poison had made its way out of my body, things turned around. My beard started coming back, my body hair started to grow again. I even had a little bit of hair on the top of my head for a brief period of time. Things returned mostly to normal while I was experiencing my new normal.

Life during and after cancer is never the same as life before. You quickly learn what it is truly like to come face to face with your mortality. After that, things like baldness, beards, and bad tan lines just become meaningless nothings.

Did you struggle with hair loss as a male cancer fighter? Share your experiences in the comments below!

Images courtesy of the author