Feeling your best during chemo

Posted by: Sian Davies, August 08, 2023

We see many transformations at HOC and without exception they are positive changes where the client looks and feels better about themselves after working with us. In the last 6 months, I have experienced the complete opposite as chemotherapy has taken its toll on my body. While the NHS got on with saving me, I found my HOC knowledge helped me maintained my positivity as I physically diminished. 

How we feel about ourselves is huge, and anything that improves self-esteem and body confidence does make a big difference when experiencing life challenges whether mental or physical.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer last February following a routine mammogram. I had felt no lump, so it was a complete shock to be told I had grade 2 stage 1 cancer. About 1 in 7 women are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime so my experience is not uncommon….I want to share my thoughts.  

There are lots of different types of breast cancer. Some need chemo, some not, sadly mine needed chemo! The plan was to give me 6 cycles 3 weeks apart of chemotherapy and the relatively new immunotherapy. Then a lumpectomy operation followed by radiotherapy. There were some initial outpatient appointments and an MRI scan then chemo began on 23rd March 23


Scalp Cooling

I elected to try scalp cooling; this involves being fitted with a cooling cap 40mins before chemo begins. The cap freezes the outer cells of your head to protect your hair follicles to hopefully save your hair. After chemo, you need to continue for a further 1.5 hours until the cap comes back up to normal temperature, so it does prolong your chemo day. As you can imagine the cap has to fit very tightly to your head and as it starts to freeze it is uncomfortable and can cause headaches. Once frozen I was cold but could tolerate it. This level of tolerance is personal though, but I would say that most people receiving chemo were wearing cold caps. Most still experience some hair loss, for some, it’s minimal, for others it doesn’t work at all, or they can’t cope with the cap. 

Sadly, I lost about 70% of my hair, particularly on the crown but it was still worth me doing scalp cooling as that 30% of remaining hair made a difference. I didn’t want a wig and just got creative with hats and scarf tying with my 30% showing!


Chemo 1

Most chemo/ immunotherapy cycles follow a pretty similar pattern… the chemo day is a bit of a trial, the next few days you are full of steroids and a lot of anti-sickness drugs, but you feel okish 

One tip. do ask for sleeping tablets just for the first few days after chemo otherwise the steroids will keep you awake all night.


Once you finish the steroids you tend to hit a brick wall and don’t feel at all well for a week. Once you are through that you should feel very tired but fairly normal until the next cycle.


So by cycle 1 day 9 after chemo, I was waiting to feel better but didn’t! The next day I woke up with a rash and started to go downhill. Typical me, I had a huge allergic reaction to the immunotherapy drug and ended up hospitalised for a week. My entire body was covered in a very angry rash, even the hospital staff were looking at me in amazement as they had never seen such a reaction. At least my rash was Winter colours as my fan shows! I managed to make it home for Easter but was in a bad way and needed a 2-week break from chemo to recover. 

My regime was then amended. No more immunotherapy and now a weekly chemo regimen.


During this time 70% of my hair fell out, although the rash was shocking the hair falling out was more upsetting …. This was a definite physical low point!


The next few sessions of chemo were thankfully less eventful, and I had soon passed the halfway point when they like to change the drugs. I tolerated the second chemo regime less well. Chemo builds and you become progressively less well as your body becomes worn out. I found the 4&5 cycles the hardest where some days my positivity left me. Physically I was feeling less recognisable as I lost my lashes and brows. I would look in the mirror first thing in the morning and feel shocked and slightly alarmed at my appearance … this is when my HOC training kicked in. Instead of starting a self-destructive, negative attack on myself, I thought what would I tell a client?


It’s about working with what you have. Here is my checklist for making the best of yourself during chemo

  •  Make use of your best colours with wow-coloured scarves and accessories. Choose wigs with care… warm hair tones for those analysed as Springs and Autumns. Ashy Cool for Summer and Winter 
  • You will have a casual lifestyle but wearing clothes that ‘don’t bring you joy’ will drag you down. Don’t save for best clothes you love …some days I could be found wearing my ‘fairy skirt’, nowhere to go, but it made me feel good wearing it around the house.
  • Think about the practicality of your clothes. On hospital days I needed to be warm and have easy access to my upper arm and the PICC line port. Others may have dressing issues to conceal a stoma bag, may be unable to do up back fastenings or need a post-surgery bra. 
  • Skincare is important during chemo as skin becomes very dry and can be itchy. Apply facial oils/ hair oils/creams and body lotion day and night.
  • Look after your nails, moisturise regularly, and keep them short. Painting them with dark polish for chemo days helps protect them.
  • Use a soft brow pencil to put back the brows, having them tattooed is not advised during chemo.
  • add blusher to combat your pale look, even if you don’t normally wear it this is the time to start.
  • Bring colour to your face with a favourite lipstick. Your eyes will look brighter and your teeth whiter.
  • Eye makeup and eyeliner define the eye. Unfortunately, I struggled with eye makeup once I had lost lashes and as a contact lenses wearer, it became a choice. Those lashes protect our eyes! 
  • Top up your makeup … reapply lipstick/ blush throughout the day, even if it’s only you in the house, it avoids mirror fright!
  • Above all be kind to yourself, some days I could only manage a face wash, cream, and a bit of lip balm…. That’s ok. chemo doesn’t go on forever.

My no makeup ‘Before’ pictures look colourless, my ‘After-how I left the house look’ got nothing but praise when I posted pictures or was out and about. 

Making the best of yourself is recognised as a hugely important step in coming to terms with the emotional effects of cancer. The Look Good Feel Better charity offers beauty and exercise courses online and in person locally at the Maggie’s Centre. Courses on makeup, nail care, body confidence and styling… I did them all! For me, not a great deal that I didn’t already know but so good to be reminded when you are at low ebb. I recommend these courses and all the support offered by Maggies Centre. Macmillan’s Next Steps too offers free courses given by very caring professionals …just amazing!

So, my message is this how we present ourselves to the outside world has a huge impact on our self-esteem and confidence. Ordinarily, we do not experience sudden physical change as I have during chemo. Our looks evolve gradually, and any positive or negative changes may not be noticed but still feeds our mind. What was so obvious when I experience sudden change is that we all need to make the best of ourselves for our own mental well-being and it helps those around us. I can honestly say that almost every day I went out during chemo I would be complimented. What does that compliment mean? It felt like words of encouragement that I was coping and getting better. It put a smile on my face and made me feel good and it shared a bit of happiness discussing my latest colour combination, scarf tie or sparkly accessory.

I am one of the lucky ones my cancer is hugely curable and for that, I thank our wonderful NHS. I have a lumpectomy ahead of me and possibly radiotherapy but then the journey is over, and I will be cured. I am looking forward to getting my life back to normal. I can’t wait to reopen my studio in Autumn 23 as I have really missed my clients. I know I will have a renewed energy in spreading the word that Colour and Style really, really, REALLY matter!