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Posted 2015-09-30T20:59:52Z

The Daily Chemo - Appearance

[Part Two of a Series. I was writing to a friend of mine the other day talking about some of the side effects of chemo and all of the things I was doing to try to head them off. And then it occurred to me: I have been doing an absurd amount of work to keep myself healthy and to stave off any side effects from the treatment. And maybe some of you would like to know what a day in the life of a cancer patient might look like. 

Note: This is no way intended to be a recommendation for other cancer patients - each person is given their own treatment plan specifically crafted for them by their medical team.]

One of the most upsetting and gripping side effects of chemo for breast cancer patients is losing your hair. And not just the hair on your head - ALL OF YOUR HAIR. (Think about it.) 

As most of you know, I have been using Penguin Cold Caps to try to save the hair on my head, and so far it has been going well. On the day of chemo cycle #2 (23 days past chemo cycle #1) - my hair should have started coming out in clumps, but it didn’t and that's when we knew the caps were working. What started to happen around Day 26 was heavy (and I mean HEAVY) shedding which dramatically thinned out my hair but did not leave me with any bald patches. So my hair is not thick and flowing any more, but I do not look like a cancer patient and as soon as chemo is done I am assured that the hair will grow back like gangbusters. 

What’s hardest about all of this is the anxiety - with all of the shedding it feels like, “My god, how do I have any hair left on my head!” All I can do is follow the intense protocols of the cold-cap treatment and keep hoping for the best. Here are those protocols:

On the days when I’m allowed to comb my hair (just 2 days a week) I douse my hair in an organic detangler and then take about 30 minutes with a wide-tooth comb to comb it section by section, being careful not to tug on the roots. On other days I have special hair ties that are delicate on the roots. On the days when I’m allowed to wash my hair (just 1 day a week) I start by detangling my hair, and then wash my hair using cold water instead of hot, use organic PH balanced shampoo & conditioner, and pat the shampoo and conditioner on my hair rather than rubbing or lathering, and then lightly rinsing it. 

I’m not allowed to do any heat chemical styling to my hair - no coloring/dying, no blowdrying on hot heat, no curling irons, and I’m really not supposed to be putting product in it. So while I’m trying to save my hair, my hair is actually looking the worse it ever has! I will be allowed to use all natural hair dye, which my stylist will help me with - the problem is that I am not a natural blonde (shhhh!) and the only thing that makes a brunette a blonde is chemical treatment. So I’m going to have to get fancy with my roots pretty soon here. Maybe I’ll have to do something funky like these fashionistas:


Another difficult impact of breast cancer chemo is WEIGHT GAIN. You heard me correctly. GAIN, which seems terribly unfair. The steroids they have me on to manage side effects of the chemo cause terrible water retention, and it also creates ravenous cravings. So while I’m already feeling unattractive from the thinning hair, now I don’t really fit into my clothes and that just plain stinks. The good news is that the weight should come right off when the treatments are done, so I just have to put my vanity aside for a while. 

I’m writing a more intimate article for my personal blog about the impact of appearance on me as an actor and a human being - be sure to check for that here. And if you're looking for ways to help, you can check out this blog post with my wish list. 

Please leave a comment. It would be great to hear from you!

Erin  :)


My treatment regimen: 

4 bi-weekly cycles of dose-dense Adriamycin and Cyclophosphamide (AC), to be completed October 6, 2015.

12 weekly cycles of Taxol (T), to be completed in January 2016.

30 sessions of radiation over the course of 6 weeks - that’s 5 days a week for 6 weeks, to be completed by March 2016.

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Comments (5)

  • Jean-Marie Bushell
    Jean-Marie Bushell

    Dear Erin, I think of you everyday and am very familiar with the stress and distress that you are feeling. Your hair will come back and you might find it more desirable at that time (could be softer, curly, a different color) Uncle Don just put a cap on his head did not remove it. It really disturbed him that clumps were all over the shower and sheets. You have a very large support group and your courage is very evident; you are a living example to those around you for how to conquer this ugly disease. Prayers and love, Aunt Jean

    6 years ago · Reply
  • Steve Lichtenstein
    Steve Lichtenstein

    I saw you last night and you looked fine!! Particularly for what your going through. Not only tha, and I know looks are a lot to an actor but being the true you inside and the beauty of your essence can get you a lot further than just skin deep beauty! Also your acting skills and talent mean something to! Your friends know you for the beautiful person you are and always will be no matter what!!!!!!

    6 years ago · Reply
  • Mary Anisi
    Mary Anisi

    Hi, Erin. Thank you for your updates. Re hair loss. My sister is a breast cancer survivor and I'd like to pass on that she decided to have her hair cropped very close to her head -- not shaved off -- just like a close crew cut over her entire head because she didn't want to deal with it clumping off either. After treatment, her hair grew back healthy and she decided to keep it short because it gave her a new look which is very becoming. Erin, you are a lovely talented woman with strong creative energy. Whether you have long or short hair doesn't change that.

    6 years ago · Reply
  • Ellen Ginsburg
    Ellen Ginsburg

    I know that stuff is tough. As much as we try to put vanity aside and keep in mind that health is the most important thing, it's still frustrating when you see changes in the mirror, or clothes don't fit. So I'm not even going to say those things don't matter because I know they *do* affect the way we feel. I think it's great that you are honest about the way that you feel day to day - I'm sure it is cathartic to get those feelings out, too! Hang in there and you know that we are there for you and rooting for you. Ellen

    6 years ago · Reply
  • Brette Goldstein
    Brette Goldstein

    Sending you love love love love love love love love. I remember gently washing my mom's hair in the tub. It's very hard. You are strong and amazing, Erin!!!!

    6 years ago · Reply