Ronni Gordon is  a cancer survivor and long-time journalist who has written about her journey, about health and fitness, and about how she and others have prevailed in difficult situations. She brings to her writing a mix of personal experience with knowledge about the health-care system and how cancer patients can navigate it. A graduate of Vassar College with a master's degree in journalism from Boston University, she is a freelance writer who worked in daily newspapers for more than 30 years. She has been published in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Dana FarberCancer Institute magazine, and Cancer Today magazine. She lives in Western Massachusetts with her dog, Maddie, short for Madison (Avenue) in honor of her hometown, New York, and is mother of three grown children, Ben, Joe, and Katie

Ronni Gordon

Tags: Cancer | chemo | hair | color | changes

Make the Best of Chemo-Related Hair Changes

Tuesday, 10 Dec 2013 10:25 AM

By Ronni Gordon

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While doing some research on the anti-leukemia drug Gleevec, I read about an interesting side effect: The drug darkened the gray hair of some patients.
 
This caught my attention because although I did not take Gleevec, my last round of chemotherapy also turned my new hair dark. Gleevec, one of the newer kinds of targeted chemotherapy, treats Chronic Myeloid Leukemia, or CML, which is different than what I had, Acute Myeloid Leukemia, or AML.
 
Wondering if I had received a different kind of chemotherapy also known for darkening patients' hair, I searched the Internet for "chemotherapy and hair color." All I found were multiple posts raising the question of how soon after chemotherapy you could color your hair. The answers were so varied that the best conclusion is to ask your doctor.
 
After Gleevec was introduced in 2001, a team of French doctors wrote a letter to The New England Journal of Medicine saying that among 133 patients treated with Gleevec, nine had a return of color to their hair. Even before Gleevec was marketed, a number of other doctors reported the finding to its manufacturer, Novartis of East Hanover, N.J.
 
I have heard people reporting changes in their hair after chemotherapy, but none quite like this. As for me, my hair fell out, grew back in, fell out and grew back in more times than I can count during the 10 years that I was treated on an off for leukemia, first the original onslaught and then the two relapses.
 
The first time my hair grew back in, I wore it close to my head. My friends said I looked stylish. I went for it, accenting the look with long dangly earrings, but I missed my old ponytail, which I was never to have again. After I relapsed and was treated with chemotherapy again, my hair fell out and grew back in tight silver curls, making me look either like an old lady or a poodle.
 
I went gray early and had been coloring my hair since my 30s. It got to be a real pain. If you have dark hair, the gray roots are visible on the top of your head, unlike people with lighter hair whose gray blends in. I bought a special hair crayon for coloring roots and applied it after every time I washed my hair. It was sticky and gross. My hair grew so fast that I had to have it colored about every three weeks. My mother was the same, keeping up her dark hair until the day she died at age 85.
 
"It will be fun to see how it grows back in," my mother told me after my hair had fallen out a second time. I think I rolled my eyes.
 
Now it is not my original almost-black color, but it is dark with silver streaks, a look that suits my age. My mother would have gotten a kick out of seeing it. Sometimes I think of all the money I have saved by not having to color it for the last five years. I joke to people that my dark hair is my consolation prize.
 

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