Well-Being//

The Bald Lady’s Secret

7 Tips for Facing Chemo-Related Hair Loss with Joy

Sandra Arduini/Getty Images
Sandra Arduini/Getty Images

I had a lot of feelings when I was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer, but the only thing that made me actually cry was the fact that I would lose my hair to chemo.

There’s something about hair that goes to the core of women’s sense of who we are, and the idea of having it taken from us is tough. Now that I’m on the other side, though, I’ve learned a few things about how to navigate this journey.

1. Make change before change is forced upon you. As I’ve written in an earlier ThriveGlobal post, I decided to cut my waist-length hair before it fell out, and dye it bright pink for breast-cancer awareness. I made great connections with lots of strangers who came up to talk to me about it, and had a blast seeming much hipper than I really am. Knowing whatever style you choose is temporary makes it possible to take fashion risks you never dared to before.

2. Halos and hats and scarves oh my! I got a couple of wigs in preparation for baldness, but wound up feeling way more comfortable in what’s called a halo—a breathable yarmulke-like piece of fabric that has hair sewn around the edges of it, which you wear with a hat. (Chemo Diva will make one out of your own hair.) I also found some great 1920’s style head scarves that were soft and stylish, and wound up leaving the wigs—which I never could get to fit or sit quite right—in the drawer.

3. Relish not being blamed for hairs in the sink—or the food. As a formerly long-haired mom, I love knowing I’m never the guilty party now.

4. Rebrand baldness. I waited until I was shedding pink hairs all over my clothes and furniture, but then I shaved my head. For the first few days, every time I looked in the mirror I wept, because of all the cancer-patient associations my own image evoked. Who else looks like that? Then it hit me: Buddhist nuns. I found that a massively helpful reframe, but my husband preferred to start a list of sexy bald celebrities. He started with Sinead O’Connor and Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange; then the sexy warrior-women of Black Panther took things to a whole new level. In any case, knowing that baldness can be uplifting, alluring or empowering makes a world of difference.

5. Consider the value of shock. Breast cancer affects one in eight women, but it’s often hidden from view. Foregoing any kind of head covering, and just going out in public as a bald woman, can help raise awareness of how common cancer is. (Depending on the context, first wearing a head covering and then whipping it off at an opportune moment can also be a lot of fun.)

6. Enjoy never having a bad hair day. Baldness means never having to do all the hair tasks we do—wash and condition, dry and style. And no worries about hat hair either!

7. Head massage. Mmm—mmm—mmm. The most surprising thing of all, to me, was how good it feels to rub my bald head. Scalp skin is surprisingly soft and sensitive, and there are some points—especially around the crown, or fontanel—that feel really good when pressed. Plus, when straggly bits of stubble come in, my kids like to stroke me like a porcupine, calling me “fuzzy Mommy.”

I’m done with chemo now, and they tell me my hair should start coming back in a few months; but I’m surprised to find I’m in no rush. I’ll look forward to enjoying the benefits of baldness for a little while more.


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