Losing one’s hair during chemotherapy is par for the course. It can be disheartening, but most people assume that their hair will grow back fully, and uniformly, after treatments are complete. The reality of post-chemo hair growth can be a bit more nerve-wracking.  

chemotherapy hair growth

Mel was so relieved to finally have a full head of hair after chemotherapy. No more scarves!

When I lost my hair, it didn’t really occur to me that it might not grow back. I had heard stories about women who were left with permanent bald spots after chemo, but I chose to ignore that possibility. I had bigger things to worry about at the time, like getting healthy. I had chosen life over hair, and I would deal with the consequences as they presented themselves.

That being said, I was relieved when random sprouts of hair started to appear during my last month of Taxol treatments. Don’t get me wrong, men and women all over the world are testaments to the phrase “bald is beautiful.” I’m just not one of them. My hair hides a multitude of interesting birthmarks and terrain on the back of my head, and for that, I am grateful.

After a few of months of slow hair growth, most of my head was covered in short plushy fuzz. However, I still had two large bald spots on the left side of my head, and I was more than a little concerned that they might stay that way. The thought of having to wear a wig every day for the rest of my life made my head itch. All I could do was be patient, and hope for the best. That was much easier said than done.

It took several months for my bald spots to sprout, but eventually, I had a full head of hair. It was a shaggy, half-curly mass of uneven hair, but it was mine. The new growth was like chinchilla fur and I couldn’t keep my hands out of it. As soft as it was, it was just as unmanageable. It stood on end most of the time, but I honestly didn’t care. My head was finally warm! 

During chemo, I had visions of a cute pixie cut when my hair grew in. But when the time came, I was so relieved to have full coverage that I couldn’t bear the thought of cutting it. On top of that, I couldn’t imagine my curly, super-fine hair cooperating to achieve any kind of style. I decided to let it grow wild and free. 

Once Mel’s hair started to grow, it came in fine and curly with a mind of its own.

Despite my shaggy appearance, I was elated to ditch my scarves. It was around that time that people who didn’t know me very well started to look at me funny and ask why I cut my hair. I explained to them that I had lost my hair during chemotherapy and it was just starting to grow back. Still, people couldn’t comprehend why I would choose my particular “hairstyle.”

I often forgot the general state of my appearance because I was looking out at the world and rarely looked at myself in a mirror. It wasn’t until I saw people glancing upward that I realized I probably looked pretty untidy. But after all I had been through, I was living life on my own terms. If my “hairstyle” didn’t appeal to the people around me, that was okay. I had a plan. I wanted long hair again.

As my hair grew a bit longer, I loved the spiral curls. “Chemo curl” was the only positive side effect of chemotherapy. It required almost no fuss besides keeping stray curls out of my eyes. If I had kept my hair short, I may have been able to keep the curls going, but for my lifestyle, I wanted to be able to pull it back into a ponytail.

Headbands were the only way for Mel to tame her mullet.

Anyone who has ever tried to grow out bangs can tell you that it’s not a pretty process. The transition from bald to long even-length hair has been even more awkward, with a few fun phases along the way. So far I’ve experienced the troll doll, sheepdog, mullet, and mop. I’ll leave it to your imagination to picture these phases in all of their glory. I am currently moving through the mop phase, but on a good day, with a considerable dose of anti-frizz gel, I’ll consider it a long, layered style.

Whatever my current phase or style, I’m just grateful to have crazy thick hair again.  



Melanie Kallas Ricklefs is a mom, wife, daughter, sister, and friend. She is also a breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer in April 2016. She underwent chemotherapy, a lumpectomy, and radiation to find her way back to health. Melanie has always enjoyed working and playing outdoors. You can find her and her family hiking, biking, kayaking, backpacking, and camping throughout the Pacific Northwest. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Forest Biology from the University of Vermont, and a Master of Science in Forest Pathology from Colorado State University.  To read more of Melanie’s articles related to cancer, click here.


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