I paid my doctor ALOT of money for this haircut... - The Funny Thing About Cancer
 
This week, I realized I haven't written much about one thing that is on every breast cancer patient's mind: hair.

Seriously.  This is a VERY big deal.

Let me give a very brief (and severely watered down) version of what a cancer diganosis looks like for a woman:  OMG!  I have cancer!  I'm going to die!  OK, talked to a doctor, have a treatment plan.  I'm getting chemo.  Chemo will help me not die.  YAY!  Oh shit.  Chemo is going to make me lose my hair.  When will I lose my hair?  Am I going to be one of those ugly bald women?  Do you lose ALL your hair?  Like, everywhere?  When will it grow back?  Oh God.  I'm going to be one of those bald, pitiable, bald, awful, bald, sick looking, bald cancer patients you see on TV.  EW!

OK, that's obviously playing up the value of hair to a cancer patient and playing down the fear of death.  But it might not be quite as far off as you think.  In my experience with other female cancer survivors, hair is HUGE. 

I'd say that for a woman, hair is one of those things that each women feels "defines" her as a female.  I'm sure men would say it's the stuff below the neckline that is more important (wink wink), but in girl world, there's alot of vanity and ego that is tied up in your hair. 

Hair is like your most important accessory.

So the loss of your hair is huge.  First, there's the emotional loss of something that you associate with your femininity.  There is insecurity that goes along with it.  "Will my husband/boyfriend/significant other still find me attractive?"  Note to men: than answer to this question if your wife/spouse/significant other asks you is "I think you're even sexier than when you had hair." and say it with CONVICTION.

Second, baldness is just a big, fat, daily reminder that you have cancer.  Trust me, cancer patients don't forget they have cancer... but sometimes you can ignore it.  Early in treatment, you might wake up feeling great and can pretend that you're who you were before.  You can pretend that you're just like everyone else.  But once you lose your hair, that illusion is totally gone.  And unless you wear a wig, it's like walking around with a freaking neon sign over your head proclaiming "THIS PERSON HAS CANCER".

Third, there is the added stress of making a daily decision regarding how you want to handle your baldness.  Do you wear a wig?  a hat?  a scarf?  go "topless" (aka bald)?  It's just one more decision you have to make every single day when all you want to do is survive.  And you have to learn how to do all those things because learning how to wear/tie a scarf or care for a wig is NOT as effortless as it might seem. 

Obviously, the emotion tied to this differs greatly depending on the person.  I've always been a bit of a ponytail kind of girl.  If a daily hairstyle takes more than 5 minutes, chances are that it won't be a daily hairstyle for me :)  I just never felt like my hair defined me.  But that's just me.  

For many other women, it's a really big deal.  I can't tell you how many young cancer survivors I know literally use the words "my hair is like my 'signature' thing"  or "my hair is my most memorable attribute".  And for these women, losing their hair is possibly the most traumatic thing about chemo.  And I totally get it. 

So to give this HUGE part of a cancer patient's daily life the respect/attention it deserves, I'm going to write a series of blogs about it.  These blogs will be from my perspective (obviously) which means I'll probably be way more flippant about it than your average cancer patient.  So for those of you who are friends/family of other cancer patients or know someone else going through chemo, please be sure to let the survivor in your life take the lead on how he/she wants you to react.  I'm sure saying that was totally unnecessary, but I had to put it out there. 

Oh and for all of you who DO know me and have been waiting for pictures of my wigs and other stuff... get ready!  It's going to be fun!
Julie
5/4/2011 06:25:20 pm

The whole time I was reading this, I was hoping that you'd post a pic of yourself with a wig on at the bottom of the post! So glad I don't have to wait too long :) Such a voyeur!

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Mary
5/4/2011 06:52:17 pm

So before the hair grows back - seriously rent a convertible - it's fabulous...

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