Last week, our Facebook followers shared hundreds of tips for coping with hair loss. Blogger Judy Weinstein wrote this post about her personal experience with hair loss and how she handled the side effect.
When you get a cold, you feel sick right away. Strep throat? It’s obvious something is wrong! Kidney stones? You are in the hospital crying in pain. Cancer is different. Cancer silently does its evil damage while you are going about your daily life. You are working, laughing, and likely “sweating the small stuff” while your cancer sneakily divides and tries to conquer.
One day you wake up and realize that something isn’t quite right. You have a slightly unusual lump, a little blood where you shouldn’t, or unexplained pain. Then the bombshell is dropped. “You have cancer.”
For many women who endure chemotherapy, one of our preoccupations is about becoming bald. I was squarely in that category. I generally don’t wear make-up and I don’t spend a long time pondering what to wear. I did, however, spend a lot of energy over my lifetime thinking about my hair. I will always remember the very first time I cut my long hair up to my chin. I was in 6th grade. One of my parent’s best friends said “Today we lost our little girl.” I puffed with pride that a shorter haircut could make me look all grown up. Soon after, I grew it out and curled the front in a desperate attempt to look like Farrah Faucet. Then later came the big hair stage… even with a perm my straight hair didn’t cooperate!
After my third baby was born, my hair began to change. I started to become gray and over time my hair became more wavy, frizzy and unruly. And did I mention gray? Those wiry gray strands were the worst!
Figuring out a style that was best became a monthly challenge. What was the right color for my changing hair? This time it was too blonde…this time too red. Should I go short? Long? Bangs? No bangs? One style was good for the winter and another for the summer humidity. One style worked for pulling it back when I played tennis but wasn’t flattering at other times! My patient hairdresser, now a close family friend, made whatever changes I asked for, knowing that I would always second guess my hair decision.
Once I had a cancer diagnosis and knew I was facing hair loss, thinking about becoming bald was admittedly terrifying. How humiliating to lose what I thought played such a heavy role in defining my looks and by extension, who I am. My cousin told me about the penguin caps one can wear during chemotherapy that works to prevent hair loss. Suddenly my emotions began to shift. The only thing I could think of worse than losing my hair, was to sit for several hours, being infused with toxic chemicals, wearing an ice-pack on my head. I was NOT willing to do that to prevent hair loss. So maybe, just maybe if I wasn’t willing to go to such great lengths to prevent hair loss, perhaps it wasn’t as important as I initially thought.
I began losing my hair on January 1. While I had the rest of my uncomfortable treatment ahead of me, I also had the hope and wonder that comes with any new beginnings. What would this year bring? Finishing treatment, my middle son graduating from high school and starting collage, my youngest son starting high school and thanks to this treatment, celebrating my half century birthday! Never before did I deeply appreciate the thought of reaching this milestone. As my grandmother used to say “It’s better than the alternative!”
We were bringing in the New Year with two sets of very close family friends. Five teenage/young adult daughters between them, my three sons and my husband all gathered around me.
Many people celebrate the New Year with brunch… egg frittatas, quiche and mimosas. In our house that day, out came the clippers, out came my youngest son’s DJ equipment, and out came my bravery that had been hiding behind the fear. With music blasting, and cameras ready, my friend started shaving. What could have been a somber, tearful occasion instead became a unique celebration of love. As my hair fell to the floor, I lost what I THOUGHT characterized me, and I gained proof of what truly defines me: family, friendship, and love.
Now, truth be told, despite what I just said, there were times when I was embarrassed to be bald. But these were fleeting moments, not an overwhelming emotion. I never wore the itchy uncomfortable wig that people said “just buy it in case you want to go out and forget you have cancer for a night.” Are you kidding me? Maybe someone else can forget about having cancer for a night during active treatment – not me!
The wig was, however, great for comic relief while trying them on. My husband and I pondered questions like what if I trade places with him…I go bald and HE wears a wig. And do blondes really have more fun?
As my hair grows back in and my energy is returning, thoughts once again begin to swerve to “its coming in very gray- should I color it?” and “will it be more like my old pre pregnancy hair, pre cancer hair or a whole new curly look?” Yet I know that while I hope to soon get back to having the luxury of “sweating the small stuff” I also hope that the perspective has shifted from the small stuff being important to being just…well… small.
Judy Weinstein is 49 years old and lives in Philadelphia, home of LBBC. She is the Executive Director of a non-profit that provides recreational education to adults and kids. Judy has three sons, ages 20, 18 and 14.