“I Am Not My Hair “- Creating Your Own Best-Case Scenarios for Hairloss During Treatment
Welcome guest blogger Michelle Young of 4Women, an organization that sinpires women to feel as beautiful as they did when they had hair. Their motto to cancer patients, alopecia patients or any woman or girl suffering from medical hair loss: ”Just because you lost your hair does not mean you have lost your sense of style.” Thank you Michelle for sharing!
It’s on the calendar – date, time and place, an appointment you never imagined yourself having to keep, treatment. It is still a couple weeks away, which means you have plenty of time to imagine what it will be. If you are at all like me, you might find yourself imagining every shade of worst-case scenario, with the degree of “worse” growing exponentially with each passing hour or day. In the words of blogger Chemobabe, “The Present Tense of crisis is fueled by adrenaline, colored by anxiety.” While we may not have much choice about keeping that appointment on the calendar, we do have choices when it comes to the thoughts we choose and the actions we take. Our goal is to not just cope with the reality of cancer, but to turn our anticipation, reluctance, and fear into a determination to imagine and create our own best-case scenarios. Cancer throws us into the “present tense of crisis” in the same way that a hurricane or tornado does. Just as anticipation of a hurricane stirs us to take actions to protect ourselves from the worst forces of the storm, so can anticipation of cancer treatment and its potential side effects propel us into actions intended to empower us to not just cope, but to thrive. A positive self-image coupled with a strong sense of self-love help fuel our motivation to seek out that which feeds and nourishes our bodies and our souls. A cancer diagnosis can catapult our relationship with our bodies and with ourselves into the wind as we suddenly feel like an entirely different person from the person we were pre-diagnosis. We want desperately to hold onto our self-identity and our sense of “normal,” but the sometimes drastic changes in our physical bodies and appearance that result from breast cancer treatment can leave us feeling robbed of ourselves and utterly disempowered.
We are not vain for caring. Appearance changes can significantly impact our perceived quality of life during cancer treatment. Some women find that though they feel generally well, to the point they might even forget they have breast cancer, one glance in the mirror sends a sharp reminder that they are “sick,” posing a major visual obstacle to self-identifying as “well.” In the words of one respondent to a 4Women.com survey, “Hair loss branded me as a cancer patient and ‘different’ when I desperately wanted to hold on to the normal parts of my life.”
That is why it is not just hair, not when the loss of our hair is part of the emotional tug-of-war between our sense of life and our awareness of mortality. 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. We have every right to want to feel good about ourselves because at no time is such love of self more important than when fighting cancer.
By taking proactive steps to determine our appearance without hair, eyebrows and eyelashes, we can boost our self-confidence and reduce that sense of “present tense crisis.” By regaining even a small sense of control over those factors we can control (such as outward appearance), our burden lightens and we gain both strength and motivation to take other day-to-day actions aimed at improving our overall quality of life during and after cancer treatment.
For specific tips for turning your hair loss anxiety into self-empowerment and creating your own best-case scenarios, visit 4Women.com’s blog . The tips appearing there were all provided by women who anonymously responded to 4Women.com’s survey exploring anticipatory coping strategies among women who lose or are likely to lose their hair during chemotherapy treatment. Their tips remind us that we are not alone on this path.
Research and Communications Director, 4Women.com