Yes, I lost my hair to chemotherapy. No, I don’t want to talk about it.
I admire Joan Lunden’s courage for appearing bald on a recent cover of Peoplemagazine. Her message is one of hope and strength as she battles an aggressive form of breast cancer. Now I would like to see us take this a step further. Let’s make it acceptable (perhaps even sexy, think Bruce Willis?) for women to be bald without the need for explanation.
When I was diagnosed a few months ago with the same breast cancer that Lunden is facing, I was told repeatedly that if I didn’t want to wear a wig, a bright scarf was a lovely alternative. No one suggested that it would be OK for me to appear bald in public. I am reasonably certain that oncologists do not have similar conversations with men.
Lunden’s message offers a disturbing glimpse into societal norms and what happens when we deviate from those norms. While a bald man goes virtually unnoticed, a bald woman becomes an aberrant focal point.
What’s wrong with her? Must be cancer. Why isn’t she wearing a wig? Or hat? There are some lovely scarves!
Joan Lunden told People “I knew I could be a voice for a quarter of a million women who are diagnosed every year with breast cancer, and I wanted to show that your health is more important than your hair. Your hair grows back after you stop chemo, and then you have your life.”
The unintentional message is that, as a woman, you only have your life back after your hair grows back. As if hair (for a woman) is so vital to living. I confess that I felt that way at first and immediately bought three wigs and five hats so I could appear “normal” in public and avoid the inevitable sympathetic stares.
But I couldn’t get comfortable dressing up my baldness. I wore one of my wigs and a visor (to help keep the wig on) to a Dodgers game. Instead of enjoying the game, I worried that the wig would come off. Worse yet, I felt resentful about the pressure to “cover up.” I don’t want to feel embarrassed about the current state of the top of my head. Other than this illness (hopefully temporary), I am the same person. I still feel hopeful, intelligent and funny, with the same warm eyes and friendly smile.
But it’s tricky being a woman and appearing bald in public. How do I cope with the sad-faced sympathizers who can’t help but tell me their cancer stories and imagine sharing my suffering?
I was in an elevator heading for my second chemotherapy session when a very attractive woman with long, brown hair (presumably her own) got on the elevator, looked at me, and asked, “Going to infusion?”
“Yes,” I replied, hoping my one-word answer would stave off more questions.
Instead, she asked: “Which cancer?”
“Early-stage breast cancer,” I said.
“Oh, I had that in 2003, kicked it, went through the treatment and felt great,” she said as I noticed we had just one more floor to go. “But then in 2011, the cancer was back in my lung.”
I didn’t know what to say before she added, “but I’m still here.”
“That’s good,” I said weakly as the elevator doors opened and I was finally able to escape.
I could also tell the story about the woman who stopped me on a hiking trail to tell me about her cancer and give me “hope,” even after I told her I preferred not to answer her question about why my head was shaved. Or the salesperson who told me I should be doing breast cancer walks and bonding with all other women going through this experience, after I responded to her questions about my baldness by admitting that I was working through this experience privately with my friends and family.
There is an assumption that everybody wants to talk about their illness. People want to unburden themselves of the pain they’re experiencing and I get it, I really do. As author Isak Denisen noted: “All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.”
My cancer treatment center offers all sorts of outlets for this sort of expression; all sorts of options for extroverts and joiners. But that’s not me. I’m more of an introvert, even a bit of a loner. I don’t want to share my most intimate health information with absolute strangers. Extroverts want the whole world running that marathon with them. I want to minimize the effect of this illness on my life and share the details only with my closest friends and family.
If I were the humorous sort, I’d choose from a list of off-putting responses to the questions about why I am bald.
“Chemotherapy?”
A. “No, I’m in training to swim the English Channel.”
B. “I’m the founder of a skinhead movement.”
C. “I had head lice. Oh, my god, you wouldn’t believe how badly it was infested! Do you want to feel it?”
Unfortunately, I’m not that sort. I can’t turn a cold shoulder to people who approach me out of sympathy. But I do wish for the freedom to cope in my own way, and I have to believe there are more introverts out there like me.
So, if you see a bald woman, don’t think, “cancer patient. I should sympathize with her and tell her about my bout with cancer or my friend who had cancer.”
Think Bruce Willis. There’s a woman who is wearing that baldness and if I say anything to her about it she might kick my a**.

By Huff post

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Beauty and the Breast

I never considered myself vain until I got breast cancer. I actually took pride in the fact that I could get ready in 10 minutes and still look half-decent. But losing your hair, eyebrows, eyelashes and eventually your breasts will do a number on your 
self-esteem. I reached the pinnacle of physical self-loathing the day my son, who was 12 at the time, told me I looked like a bald, old man. He didn’t mean to be cruel. It was a fact – one that prevented me from looking in the mirror for months because it was just too painful to see my femininity stripped away.During my 17 months of chemotherapyand surgeries, I put beauty on the backburner. After all, I was in survival mode and my goal was singular: get better so I could see my children grow up. Throughout that time, there were so many people who went out of their way to fix my broken self-image. My neighbour – a cancer survivor – loaned me her expensive wig because it was identical to my pre-cancer hair. My BFF insisted on treating me to facials every few months. Another friend took an eyebrow tutorial so she could show me how to pencil mine in. My sisters bought me funky earrings and hats. And my husband found ways to compliment me, even if it was just for the fact that I had grown a bit more hair that week. Reclaiming My Femininity Early on, I opted for breast reconstruction, thinking it would make me feel like my old self again. It didn’t – I still felt ugly. Due to ongoing medication, my formerly thick hair was now so fine, there were visible bald spots all over my head. My eyebrows hadn’t grown back. Plus, I had two huge scars across my new chest – this was no “boob job.” In search of clarity, I decided to seek advice from the “been there, done that” set: fellow breast cancer survivors. Tips From Fellow Survivors First up, I reach out to a close friend who went through a mastectomy 11 years ago and had chosen not to reconstruct her breasts. She is one of the most beautiful and elegant women I know. “All of this doesn’t define you,” she says. “You’ve got to realize that your beauty is so much more than what you see in the mirror.” I know she is right, but I am not ready to believe her. I talk to other women who finished breast cancer treatment more recently. Kathleen Henderson, a mother of four, was diagnosed in 2013 at the age of 38. Unlike me, she wasn’t avoiding mirrors. However, Henderson admitted to wearing a lot of baggy shirts in those early days and having trouble with intimacy. “It’s hard to look at yourself with no hair, one breast and scars and consider yourself desirable,” she says. She hadn’t planned on reconstructing her breasts either – until they were gone. “I felt this burden when I got dressed or was at the gym that people were looking at me, even if they weren’t,” she says. Her daughters, who were seven and five at the time, were another concern. “This was a very traumatic experience for them. I thought, ‘If they didn’t have to see this every day, it could be something in the past as opposed to a constant reminder of this awful thing that happened to their mom.’ Post-surgery, she wondered if people who didn’t know her history would judge her for getting her breasts done. “If they only knew what I had to go through to get these, they wouldn’t be thinking that,” she says. Coping With Hair Loss Henderson has short, wavy hair and, on the day we meet, I comment on how much it suits her. But she is still very self-conscious, given the fact that she has had very long hair throughout her life. “I think losing your hair is a huge thing. Now, I look at women with short hair on the street and wonder if they had cancer, too,” she says. “I’m projecting all of my own fears onto others.” Jill Anzarut, a Toronto mother who is now cancer-free and celebrated five years since her diagnosis last December, remembers how “gross” she felt when her hair started coming out in chunks. So, she decided to shave it off completely and rarely wore a wig. “I got a lot of stares when I was bald on the streets, but I didn’t want to pretend that this wasn’t going on,” she says, remembering how her two-year-old would always tell people she had a bald mommy. “Beating cancer gave me confidence” Post-treatment, she fell apart for a while (her father died during that time, too). It took the better part of a year to feel good about herself again. “Now, if someone is going to stare at my scars in the change room, let them,” she says. “Beating cancer gave me confidence. If this is what it looks like to be on the other side, I’ll take it.” Both women tell me that exercise has been a key factor in helping them connect with their bodies in a positive way again. “When I’m running or doing Pilates, nobody is looking at me and saying ‘Pretty good for someone who had cancer,'” says Henderson. “Hopefully they just see someone who is athletic and strong.” Sherry Abbott was diagnosed with ovarian cancer 26 years ago. She was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, and remembers being treated differently when she started to look like a sick person. It compelled her to work with a program that helps women cope with the social and emotional challenges of cancer and feel good about themselves again. Abbott is the executive director of Look Good Feel Better, one of the programs created by Beauty Gives Back, a charitable initiative of the beauty industry. A Stronger Beginning “After cancer, there is a grieving of femininity, of body parts, of relationshipsand even of a career that you may have dreamed of,” says Abbott. “But I think these experiences give you other opportunities. It’s about going a little deeper and finding those resources that will make your life richer.” While Abbott never got to fulfill her dream of having children, she has fulfilled other ambitions. She achieved her career goals, travelled the world, volunteered overseas and even worked in Jakarta for years. “You have to find ways to embrace all that change as an opportunity for growth,” she says. I think I’m finally starting to get it now. This is my new reality, and it doesn’t have to be an ugly one. Weeks later, as I was getting ready to go out, my son walked into my room. I was wearing a new dress and had just finished trying to style my sparse hair. “You look really pretty,” he said. I went to the mirror and took a good long look. For the first time in a very long time, I believed it.

Source: By best health mag

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