Hair loss as a result of chemotherapy can be devastating and dispiriting. At a time when cancer sufferers most need to retain a positive outlook sudden baldness is an unwelcome shock to the system.
In one of her video diaries Victoria Derbyshire explained that it was one of the things that was most difficult to come to terms with, saying “it has been the thing that has affected me most, more than a mastectomy”.
Julia Mgrath, a Virginian cancer sufferer, writing in the Charlotte Observer tells a similar tale of shock, combined with the difficulties of managing her children’s anxieties about such an obvious physical change to their mother’s appearance.
Hair loss symbolising illness
Initially hair loss became an external indicator of how well she was. The children struggled with the changes in their mother and she found herself wearing fake hair pieces and makeup to try to look more “normal”.
She couldn’t believe how this profoundly affected the children “a little strip of fake hair made them feel better—if mom looks OK she must be OK! I know my kids were relieved I didn’t look like I was going through chemo”.
Humour the best tonic
As time wore on she recounts how the children gradually seemed to acclimatise to her hair loss and the shock of her appearance to them. Part of this was through the occasional humorous moment and the ability to laugh in the face of the disease.
On one occasion her father was driving her and her children and one of the children wanted the window open. Just as the window was going down he realised a potential problem and exclaimed “Hurry!! We have to put up the window before your mom’s hair flies off!”. The resulting laughter amongst the whole family was a step towards dealing with the reality of her changed appearance.
Eventually she reveals that the children accepted the changes and finishes on a positive note. As a result of her hair loss her kids became more compassionate when family members were sick, and more importantly they learnt that outward appearance only tells a small part of someone’s story.