No, It's Not 'Just Hair.' This Is Why.
I've been contacted by some fellow women who have breast cancer and hope some of you (actually, all of my friends) may find this meaningful as you evolve and are faced with a new normal.
I had heard too many really mindless remarks about my hair too many times and I finally broke.
Comments ranging from "Aw (pity face) your hair is so pretty too" , to "too bad you're going to lose it" to "It's a trade off" pushed me to the edge, and I couldn't keep it off my heart any longer. So…I went on a bit of a rant on Facebook:
"People: Hair is not just hair. Hair is a big part of some people and used as a way to express themselves, and sometimes, hide themselves. Do not ever tell a person "It's a trade off - you lose hair to live" or "Oh, it will grow back."
No. Just stop. You don't have cancer. Don't minimize my feelings. It will not "just" grow back. It will stay gone until after treatment and then, for some, it won't be at a comfortable length for years. Having a bald head is having a billboard on your head that you have cancer. There are ways to cover it up but it’s a constant reminder and it's a real loss. Do not make me feel like I am vain or weak or dumb or ungrateful for being upset for crying when I find clumps of my own hair in my shower, or when I'm crying because I don't have the bone structure for bald.
Those remarks were not enjoyable to listen to, or to feel. These were remarks coming from oncology professionals and complete strangers alike who think talking to me about something like this is appropriate or comforting. I'm not super proud of getting all fired up over social media but you know what, I did it. I own it. I used an emoji so it's not even that serious (although I get a lot of my emoji etiquette from teenage boys I work with so I could be wrong).
I I get that to some people it's just hair, I really do. A few months ago it probably would have been "just hair" to me too. I have been struggling with feeling vain and dumb for being upset, but as I sought out whatever control I had over the situation today, I did some soul-searching and learned a lot about myself; I decided that I'm not dumb but that I am a little vain (I can live with that). I also discovered a few other things...
Three reasons why losing my hair is so hard:
- People will stare at me and I may make people feel uncomfortable.
- I want people to talk to me like they normally would and not be scared to upset me or offend me. I promise you, I am the same person.
- I have been able to keep up appearances since being diagnosed and that made me proud, but this is one side effect that will reveal my not-so-secret secret to everyone who doesn't already know.
This is me being totally vulnerable, but y'all, I am trying so hard to be real. So here's the truth: I've convinced myself that if I anticancer hard enough, that I can fake it till I make it. When I'm dizzy I can make up an excuse to sit down. I do my hair and my makeup to hide the pale skin (which is natural but somehow looks more pale…I also did not think this was possible) and thinning spots on my scalp. I can mostly hide the hot flashes.
I wait until I'm sitting on the shower floor to collect clumps of hair and I cry while they're in my hand. I use up my energy in front of others and then I collapse on the couch to play a videogame or watch Netflix and pretend like I don't have cancer. Because, hello - I don't want cancer.
But although the potential of losing my hair is, at times, terrifying, you can ask me about my hair. You can comment on it and my head or my scarf or my wig or whatever else you have a questions or a *thought out* comment about. That's all I ask: think before you speak.
Questions to ask yourself before talking to me about hair loss:
- Am I asking this question because I genuinely have interest in the answer?
- Is this thing I'm about to tell her going to make her feel like crap?
- Do I have a right to pretend to understand how she feels and then tell her that's how she feels and, if she doesn’t feel that way, to say she is feeling this wrong?
- Am I saying this for HER or for ME?
Appropriate conversation starters I would prefer you use:
- "Man, you’re losing your hair. That SUCKS."
- "I don’t know what to say. I don’t even know how I would handle that."
- "Did it hurt?"
- "Does it feel weird?"
- "How much money are you saving on shampoo?!"
- "Do you have to shave your legs?"
FYI, the answer to that last one is no!! I am straight up WINNING every time I touch my legs and am reminded that I have dreamt of this forever and that, though small, this cancer perk is freaking awesome.
I like my hair. I'm going to miss it. It's red and curly crazy and I complain about it but now I wish I hadn't. I've been told it can come back in different colors and textures so I guess that's kind of cool. Let's hope for humidity resistant and anything but grey!
Change is ok. Different is ok. Work to where you believe that you are enough, because you are.
I stopped using cold caps today. In an effort to feel like I have some control over this craziness, I went for a chop to ease into the process that will be "Maegan - the bald the beautiful." Thank you.
What are some things you'd rather people say to you about your hair loss? Share them in the comments below!
Photo courtesy of the author. Find more of her blogs on her personal site, NetflixAndChemo.