Growing up, at the start of every summer my mother would take my sister and I to donate our hair. We donated long, thick black hair to organizations that make wigs for children without hair, never dreaming that one day I’d be one of those kids myself.
I didn’t get a wig during my first cancer. I lost 90% of my hair, and wore a series of hats during that time. When I was done with treatment, my dad shaved my head so my hair would grow back evenly. My first semester of college, I embraced the black fuzz, that moved on to a short bob, but still occasionally wore cute hats. I remember the day after talking to my chemistry professor- the conversation had delayed me from rushing across the quad with my friends, so I leisurely walked in the sunshine. Suddenly, I felt the breeze ripple through my short hair. I felt a happiness I had never known! It was sheer bliss feeling that breeze and knowing my hair was growing!
Our Christmas picture shows me with a thick bob, in places almost to my shoulder. My hair had grown in curlier than I had had before. But relapse presented the risk of loosing my hair a second time. The nurses told me about others who hadn’t lost all their hair during BMT (bone marrow transplant), and I held out hope that that would be me. For several weeks, it seemed like it would be! I lost a few strands here and there, but nothing major. Then one night, my brothers Joe and Dan came over for dinner and to hang out with me and suddenly, it was coming out. We all instinctively knew that this was an incredibly emotional moment, and if we didn’t laugh we would be devastatingly broken. So we made it a game, and they helped me pull out my hair. Each swipe through my luscious locks brought giant handfuls of black hair. Mom always used to make them stop if we had tried to pull out the hair in the past, but that night we were free without her there!
While I was sad about loosing my hair, I kinda accepted it as inevitable for cancer. I surprised everyone, but myself the most, when I asked my dad for a wig the summer after transplant- almost two months after the end of all cancer treatments. My hair was taking a while to grow back in, and I decided I wanted a wig then. I still don’t know why I wanted a wig after the worst of it was over, but I’m very happy I got one then! I went to a local wig shop, and tried on multiple wigs. Even though none of the ready-to-purchase ones were in black hair, I felt so beautiful looking into a mirror and having hair again. As itchy, hot, and uncomfortable as the wig was, I wore it quite often for months, until my own hair had grown to the point that I couldn’t keep the wig on. Body image is hard for adolescents to begin with, much less when you’re dealing with cancer! As a girl, here’s a few things I found to help me with that:
Hats: A friend made me a cute flapper-style hat. It was short and light enough to not make my head hot, but still cover the shiny globe.
Jewelry: I had my ears pierced when I was one, but usually stuck with two or three small earrings I rarely changed. With cancer, I got the biggest, jazziest, most exciting earrings I could find. I wore a different pair every day! If earrings aren’t your thing, try bracelets and necklaces. The jewelry helped me feel more feminine and gave me something to help me feel dressy.
Scarves: I was never a huge fan of the scarf headdresses. I thought they looked like things bald people wore, so I never really wore it on my head. But I did wear scarves around my neck. In the cold Midwestern winters, a scarf could easily be pulled up around my neck and ears and help keep me warmer.
Guys, I know you have your own struggles with body image, but I’m not sure exactly what they may be! So I’m sticking with the girl stuff I know as a female, how I looked mattered a lot to me. I’ve seen female survivors with the boldest and awesomest makeup ever! At CancerCon, I always find myself sitting in the make-over area, and for a few minutes transforming into someone glamorous.
My insides don’t feel like they should match the outside painted on me! A lot of cancer centers have a donated wigs area to try on wigs, if you are considering getting one. The American Cancer Society offers a class called “Look Good, Feel Better” on make-up techniques to draw in eyebrows and such. It shouldn’t matter how we look on the outside, because on the inside we are strong individuals facing cancer the best we can. But we can’t see the inside- we can’t see the strength, and dignity, and power we hold. So making our outsides look a little more “normal” helps the soul. I could end with a “you look beautiful” cliché statement…but we all know that’s b.s. There’s a lot of days we look like utter crap, because we’re going through hell.
So here’s to celebrating the days when we can look and feel a little bit better and show the world a bald head is a symbol of hope and resilience!