Horrible Hair Loss - The Chemo Effect

Despite being a well-known side effect of chemo, when Emily's mother lost her hair, it still came as a surprise.


I'll never forget the look of masked shock and inner turmoil on my father's face as I preceded my mum down the stairs.

We'd gone up to the bathroom to 'trim' her hair after it had become apparent that she was now losing it due to the chemo. It had taken us about ten seconds to work out that a 'trim' wasn't going to cut it - pun intended.

Her hair just fell out. And by fell, I mean just dropped from her head like brittle straws as I tried to hold strands to cut. We looked at each other in abject horror not knowing what to do next. 

There's lots of talk and advice about hair falling out when you have chemo - it's a well-recognised side effect, but actually seeing it happen and dealing with it is a shocker when it actually occurs. 

It was three months into her chemo. I remember the discussions after the first two; perhaps she was going to be one of the lucky ones and keep her hair as after the first treatment all seemed well. After the second session, a little bit started dropping but it's amazing how the brain processes these things. Whether it was denial or positivity I'm not sure, but we kept hoping that it would stop and she'd keep most of her hair or at least some of it - right up until our fateful trip to the bathroom. 

Recognising the trim as futile, we went all out. I cut my mum's lovely dark locks right back, until she had nothing more than a few patches of grey spikes. She still looked beautiful, just different: small and vulnerable and such a far cry from the glamorous and formidable lady I knew so well. 

I looked at my stomach, seven months pregnant with my first child, and feeling quite emotionally raw myself, but trying to hold it together for my mum as she battled the enforced image change in her own head. We took precious moments to hug each other and reassure each other that all would be well. "This was normal," we said, as we consoled ourselves. Nothing I've ever done has been further from normal.

It was then we made the move downstairs. I didn't have the chance to forewarn my dad. He was still under the impression that our endeavours were going to be limited to a little trim. As he saw her bald head for the first time, he tried so hard to hide his shock at seeing his beautiful wife so brutally cut. 

My mum was behind me, she didn't see the momentary flicker of terror and trauma that flashed across my father's face before he recovered himself to support her, as he always did, with positivity, and his unwavering love and kindness. 

But it's a look I'll never forget and after my mum, once comforted herself, went into the kitchen, my father's face crumpled, silent tears poured down his face as we hugged in the hallway - his one momentary lapse of strength and sign of true fear for the outcome during the brutal process of chemo. 

There were no grown-ups here at this point, only fear, love...and, of course, hope.



For more information and support take a look at or call:

Macmillan's Support Line

Breast Cancer Care's helpline

Marie Curie's list of cancer support directory