Guest Editor | Restoring femininity after breast, hair loss
Breast cancer, for many, feels like a death sentence, and for women, even when they survive, the loss of their breasts and then their hair feels like the core of their femininity has been ripped from them. This was the experience of Dr Jennifer Mamby Alexander, which led her to create the Hair Loss Clinic of Jamaica.
When Mamby Alexander discovered the lump in her breast, it was first diagnosed as fibrocystic breast disease. By the time she received the diagnosis of breast cancer, it was evident that she would have to go through the entire process of a mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation.
"After everything was worked out, I reluctantly faced a mastectomy. While still in hospital recovering from the surgery, I spoke to the oncologist about the best treatment that would give me the best prognosis. He discussed the treatment with me and told me of women with a delayed diagnosis who did well with survival periods of up to 10 years," Mamby Alexander noted. The 10-year survival was not long enough for her to nurture and raise all her children.
She begged for maximum doses of chemotherapy. With the impending side effects of nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, feeling sick, and hair loss due to this intense treatment, she knew that the possibility of hair loss would be the hardest for her to come to terms with. She researched a few ways to prevent hair loss.
"The first was to place an ice pack on my head during the treatment in order to shrink the blood vessels in my scalp, thus reducing the medication that was getting to my scalp. The second was to place a tight rubber band around my head during the treatment, so that the blasts of the drugs would again be prevented from getting into the blood supply to my scalp. I felt that I had better control over the rubber band method than the ice pack method, so since I was grasping at straws, I collected all the rubber bands I could find," she said.
However, Mamby Alexander still lost her hair. It was a heartbreaking experience. There was limited to no hair loss after the first two treatments, but devastation struck after treatment number three. It was as if her hair was no longer attached to her head, and as she ran her fingers through her hair, it came off as if it had not been hers to begin with. She remembers looking in the mirror and - combined with the loss of the breast and other body changes - feeling that she had lost her femininity. She reached her lowest state of depression in her life, even wondering to herself if this was what being a eunuch felt like. After losing all her body hair - eyebrows and lashes included - Mamby Alexander reflected on whether it was worth living at all. But she knew that she had to fight for her children, and she did.
She beat it.
She started the first hair-loss clinic in Jamaica
After beating depression over the loss of her hair, Dr Jennifer Mamby Alexander, admittedly, had put her experience behind her. However, when she saw other women experiencing what she had experienced, especially the hair loss, she was once again overcome by depression and the embarrassment of her own hair loss.
When she started to speak about it, especially to women, she realised that they were reliving her experiences of hair loss.
"When I began to speak about it, especially to women, they all said that they were frustrated with hair loss and had tried every method to regrow hair, including rubbing on honey, garlic, aloe vera, ginger, coconut oil, castor oil on their scalps and wished their hairdressers had a private room or booth in their parlours to attend to them," she told The Gleaner.
Hair loss in any form, in both sexes, seemed to be a matter of grave concern, Mamby Alexander and she began to feel that hair loss had become a silent epidemic in Jamaica.
She could not ignore this and felt compelled to help restore hair growth in both women and men who had experienced hair loss. She went on to get formal training in how to do this. She travelled overseas and returned home as soon as she was qualified. It still took her some time to start the hair clinic as she had exhausted her funds in the training programme.
Now, Jennifer Mamby Alexander has opened the first hair-loss clinic in Jamaica. Here, she provides patients, with a hair-restoration plan, which includes hair transplants. She then became a member of the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery.
It was important for her to use her experience of loss and loneliness to help someone through their experience. She aims to continue to live by the motto of her Hair Loss Clinic of Jamaica, 'Restore Your Hair, Restore Your Confidence'.