Learning to Cope With Cancer-related Hair Loss
Temporary hair loss is a common side effect of chemotherapy. For women who are undergoing breast cancer treatment, it can be an upsetting experience. Evelina chose to face hair loss head-on, before starting her treatment for breast cancer. "Losing my hair was difficult for me to process initially,” she says. “I decided to make it easier on myself by chopping it off before treatment, because I knew that it would be very devastating for me to wake up to seeing my ponytail on my pillowcase or seeing chunks of it falling out while stroking it.”
For Evelina, cutting her hair was also therapeutic. “‘The Big Chop,’ for me, was a way of easing the process of this devastating diagnosis,” she says. “Chopping my hair was also a way of coping with the pain.”
In most cases, hair loss due to cancer treatment is temporary, but it can take several months to regrow your hair. How each woman responds to her hair loss is personal. Evelina wanted to wear a wig. "It was important for me to get a wig because in order to ‘walk in my healing,’ I needed to be able to look in the mirror and see myself the way that I wanted the end result to be: healed,” she says. “And rocking a bald head was not how I saw myself healed, healthy, and whole."
Some women choose to wear wigs, scarves, hats, or turbans. Other women are comfortable wearing nothing. Any of those choices is the right one if it feels right for you. As wig designer and cancer hair loss consultant Amy Gibson puts it: “Each woman must decide for herself how she is most comfortable meeting the world.”
Amy experienced permanent hair loss due to an immune disorder called alopecia areata. As she learned to embrace her new normal, she was inspired to help other women and create her own wig line. She is also a national hair loss spokesperson and educates women on everything to do with alternative hair (wigs).
If you are facing hair loss, keep reading for some tips from Amy to help you through the process.
"This is about you. You are the most important thing happening right now — your joy, your environment, your treatment, and what you are going to create during this time, when you want to have the least amount of stress possible."
— Amy Gibson
First, know you are not alone in this experience. It may feel scary because it’s unfamiliar. “This is a new journey,” says Amy. “Hair loss is not something we are familiar with. We don’t necessarily know about it unless a family member or a friend loses their hair. It’s why I try so hard to educate. I do believe that old adage ‘Knowledge is power.’ For this particular circumstance, it couldn’t be more true. And with just a little education comes peace of mind and heart.”
Amy hears 3 common concerns when working with women who have experienced hair loss due to cancer treatment. These are:
- Who am I going to be? My hair has always defined me.
- I don’t want anybody to know. How am I going to keep this a secret?
- How am I going to learn to live with a wig?
It can be difficult to feel in control when you are navigating the life changes that come with a cancer diagnosis. Hair loss might feel like another area where you have no control. But how you respond to it can be empowering. “This is one place where you can have control and have fun,” says Amy.
If you are facing hair loss, Amy offers this advice: “When we change our perception, we change our reality.” This way of thinking helped Amy through her own experience with hair loss. “The first step is embracing yourself in the process,” she says. “You need to be able to scream it out, cry it out, allow yourself to move through the grief, and then say, ‘Okay, now I’m going to feel fabulous while this is all going on.’”
Find Your Groove
If you are thinking about getting a wig, Amy suggests asking yourself: “What is my lifestyle?” This will help define the correct hair solution for you. Also identify what’s important to you right now. For example:
- Are there people in your life who you don’t want to know about your cancer diagnosis?
- Do you have a romantic partner in your life whom you want to feel sexy with?
- Would you feel more like you if you wore a wig?
“If getting a wig is going to make you feel more relaxed, get a wig,” says Amy. “This is about you. You are the most important thing happening right now — your joy, your environment, your treatment, and what you are going to create during this time, when you want to have the least amount of stress possible. I always believe that if you can look and feel like you, it really does lessen the stress.
"This is a time you can be anybody you want to be."
— Amy Gibson
Getting a wig can bring some light into this very difficult time in your life. You have full control over the process because you get to choose your look: short hair, long hair, curly hair, red hair — the sky’s the limit. “Transformation can happen in an instant if you are open to it,” says Amy. It doesn’t have to be connected to your cancer, she adds. “This is a time you can be anybody you want to be. If you want to rock it differently, you have thousands of wigs to choose from. Go for it!”
If you are thinking about getting a wig, stay tuned for our next blog in this series. Amy shares tips to help you find a wig that fits your tastes and feels comfortable, too.