They call it our “crowning glory.” Our hair is the crowning element of our identity – from our femininity, to age, confidence, and style, we communicate a great deal about ourselves by how we wear and style our hair. Without hair, we feel stripped of our identity, and in the context of cancer, it often feels like we are systematically being stripped of ourselves. Hair loss can feel like the last straw. Too many of us feel guilty for caring about our hair when faced with a life-threatening disease like cancer. I believe we have every right to want to feel good about ourselves, especially when fighting cancer.
Hair loss can be one of the most difficult and feared side effects of chemo. When a woman finds out she needs chemo, she will often immediately begin anticipating hair loss, its impact on herself and her loved one’s. Just as with other unwanted events in life, we tend to envision worst-case scenarios in anticipation of our hair loss, possibly making the anticipation more difficult than the hair loss itself. Feeling helpless in anticipation of a negative or unwanted event may cause feelings of reluctance, fear, and depression. Just as anticipation of a hurricane or tornado stirs us to take action to protect ourselves from the worst forces of the storm, so can anticipation of a major appearance change such as chemo-induced hair loss stir us to take actions that help us rise above the emotional storm. A greater sense of control over a changing appearance can ease feelings of fear and depression and motivate us to take control of other aspects of our lives that contribute to a greater quality of life during cancer treatment.
Following are some tips for turning your anticipatory hair loss anxiety into actions that will reduce your anxiety, improve your self-esteem, and increase your sense of control over your appearance. These tips come from anonymous respondents to 4Women.com’s Anticipatory Coping survey, women who have faced what you are facing and picked up helpful coping mechanisms along the way.
1) Watching your hair fall out can be very traumatic. Cutting your hair short or shaving it can help you feel more in control and avoid difficult emotions triggered by sudden hair loss.
2) Be prepared! Don’t wait until your hair is gone to figure out what you need. Have a small sample assortment of head wear options on hand before hair loss occurs. Once you’ve determined your preferences, you can always purchase multiples of particular items.
3) Chemo-induced hair loss is almost always temporary. Keep this in mind when choosing a wig that best suits your needs. Talk to other women who have purchased and worn wigs and research reputable wig salons. Many women feel more secure having a good wig on hand for public outings. Match a wig with your own hair color or experiment with a new color and style.
4) Comfort is key. Tight hats, scarves, or wigs will cause headaches. Head wear that is not sufficiently snug will have you feeling insecure, wondering if it will stay in place. When choosing scarves, look for pre-fitted and pre-tied styles so that you don’t need to worry about raising or holding your arms over your head to style, tie or adjust your scarf.
5) Color me happy! Colors that looked good on you prior to hair loss will still look good on you. Brighter and bolder colors can help brighten your self-image when you are feeling pale or tired.
6) Accessorize your look from the neck up – be bold and creative. Whether you’re wearing wigs, hats, scarves, or going bald, accessories like earrings or a necklace can add shine, sparkle, or definition to your face.
7) Keep your noggin warm! Without hair, you may find you’re more prone to get cold, especially at night. Soft, comfortable sleep caps can keep you snug and warm during your hair loss nights.
Check out our article, “Anticipatory Coping: Taking Control of Hair Loss,” which appears in the June issue of the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing, in which we advocate for more efforts to proactively prepare women for hair loss from oncology nurses. Available at http://www.4women.com/news/42.
Susan Beausang, 4Women.com