18. Losing my hair to chemo, wig shopping and continuing treatment in Istanbul

Well what a few weeks that was. I started chemotherapy on the 7th of June and I was really sick for three full weeks after. I spent 12 days in Istanbul initially, and for most of it, I wasn’t able to eat and had no interest in doing anything other than sleeping and moaning about how sick I was. When I got back to Ireland, I didn’t improve much and was raging that the chemo was ruining my time at home, this part was supposed to be easier! I got to spend some time with Ali though which was great and she didn’t punish me for being away! I needed help minding her as I didn’t have the energy to be running around after a toddler! And I wasn’t able to keep her at home as much as I would have liked, I ended up spending a lot of time in bed so I got bloods done on my Turkish doctors advice. I discovered that my white blood cell count was below the lowest of the normal range (It was 3100, normal range is between 4000-10,000). So I was at risk of infection. And poor Ali got croup at the same time. I was torn between protecting myself and comforting her. I had a mask on my mouth and nose but she hated that and kept pulling it off. It was horrible to have to leave her when she wasn’t well but Paul stayed with her this time and I travelled back to Istanbul with my mam and sister Sharon, mask on face for the whole flight and airport journey. I looked like a right weirdo. Managed to keep clear of infections though and was able to resume treatment when I got back.

I dreaded going back. I hadn’t felt human since I started treatment and now I had to go back to be poisoned again and resume the shitty feeling. But the universe had something else in store for me. This time I didn’t get sick. Not one bit. It left me exhausted at times but I can manage that if I don’t feel sick. And I haven’t stopped eating since I came back either. As my mother said, God bless your appetite Mairead! It’s better than hers at the moment! I have my two sisters here cooking for me and making sure I’m able to stay on my Keto diet, they have made it very easy I must say! I’ve been able to go out for dinner a couple of times and have been able to see some of the city finally, a luxury I wasn’t able for last visit as I was so sick, I barely left the hotel. I also discovered that taking magnesium gives me a massive boost of energy, something my energy healer Brian detected I was lacking and has been a life saver! This time, we got to do some exploring. We went to the beach which was too hot so had to come home again! And we made it to the Grand Bazaar, a wonderful place full of all sorts of trinkets. I got a few pashmena’s so I can mix up my headwear. I’ve lost my hair now so I need to wear something on my almost bald, fluffy head! I am loving turban wearing and am blending in with the locals here in Istanbul!

I lost my hair exactly two weeks after my first chemotherapy treatment. I woke up one Tuesday morning and I thought, I’m going to lose my hair today. It was a strange feeling. I had a shower and brushed it after and nothing of significance fell out. Just the normal amount. But I still had that feeling. Later in the evening I started to notice a few loose ones on my arms. It was starting to fall. I said it to my mam and sister and friend in the house that evening and they said why don’t you contact Miriam Beirne, she has a wig shop in Athlone. I had an appointment in Athlone the following day so I said, yea sure why not. I emailed Miriam that night and she got back to me straight away, offering me an appointment at 1pm the following day. The time slot suggested to me that she had given up her lunch break to squeeze me in at short notice. The kindness of people still amazes me, especially Strokestown people! So myself and Paul called into her the following day and I tried on a few different wigs. I settled on one which was very similar to my own hair style, you wouldn’t know the difference. Miriam is so professional and knowledgeable about everything to do with wigs and hair loss. She brushed a bit of my hair and confirmed that, yes, it was falling out! She is sensitive and kind. Although I wasn’t really in need of a sensitive approach as I didn’t mind the hair loss, I would imagine if you are upset about the process, Miriam is the lady who will make it all feel ok! She answered several questions I didn’t even know I had. Would I shave it off or cut it short when it started to fall more? She suggested shaving it to a blade 3, any shorter would cause scalp irritation. She also suggested doing it sooner rather than later, if my hair got matted at all, it would pull out in clumps and leave me with a patchy head. Paul asked her when it would grow back, something I didn’t think to ask but good question with an interesting answer! Three weeks after the last chemotherapy session, it will stop falling out. Three weeks after that, it will start to grow from the root, three weeks after that it will pop back through the scalp. And then it will grow a quarter of an inch each month. So if I finish my chemo in September as planned, I should have a nice pixie cut for my birthday in February, all going well.

So based on Miriams advice, I went home and contacted my trustee hairdresser Ellie Ann to come over and shave it all off. She was sick herself so we waited a couple of days until she was better and she arrived with the clippers! That morning, a lot came out in the shower and even more when I brushed it. There was more hair on the brush than my head. I decided to stop brushing and tie up the last little bit in a twisty pony tail for the last time. My hair was a lion’s mane at times when it was at its thickest and curliest and blondest. Now, it was a paltry, thinned out, flat looking pathetic few strands. Off with it! I brought Ali into the kitchen to witness the cutting. I didn’t want to scare her. Mammy has hair one minute and then she looks like a boy the next. What is going on?! I showed her all of the hair that fell off that morning in the bin. And when Ellie Ann started cutting and shaving, we kept putting it in the bin. When I ask her now where mammy’s hair is, she says it’s in the bin. She has also taken an interest in cutting hair herself. She managed to chop a bit of her own fringe with a scissors last week but Paul got to her in time before she could do real damage. And when we were on a video call the other day, I saw her giving the cat a trim with the nail clippers, he seemed to be enjoying it too. An apprentice hairdresser in the making!

Funnily enough, the hair loss has been a very small part of this process. It was one of my main worries when I was diagnosed and thought I would be doing treatment in Ireland. I hated the thoughts of losing my hair but now that I’ve been through so much and have been confronted with death, it really hasn’t bothered me. I’ve even unveiled my baldy head on Facebook already, a balsy move I didn’t think I would ever do. Fuck it! You’re on this journey with me, you get to see the good and the bald!

P.S, I think the Sinead O Connor look really suits me, and the turban wearing too. Two looks I might hang onto for a while when my hair starts to grow back!



  1. You look great! We don’t know each other from Adam, but I’ve just caught up on your blogs and you are bloody amazing. And I don’t mean that in a patronising way in the slightest – whether you’re ill or not, I so admire (and am slightly envious of) your positivity, outlook and refusal to be beaten by this shit. Fuck yeah! I’m sending every single good vibe that I can muster your way, Mairead 🙂

  2. Mairead it’s fantastic to see you are looking and feeling so well. Sending reams of positivity your way x

  3. Hi Mairead, your blog reads like butter on a blueberry muffin! I appreciate you sharing your experience. Are you still wearing wigs? I wanted to inform your audience that if they are in need of an online solution for wigs then they can always try House of European Hair. Thanks again for your stories!

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