When I decided to shave my head and steal my hair from the chemotherapy (because now, cancer and chemo are active monsters working against me), I never expected the reaction I received. I anticipated support from my friends and family, I was even prepared for a few gasps of surprise. What I didn’t see coming was being called inspirational, strong or brave. I also didn’t expect to hear how beautiful I was or how I was empowering others. I didn’t shave my head for any of those reasons. My only thought had been that I could no longer stomach watching my hair be taken bit by bit. There was no more crying to be done over a balding head. I wanted the power back from this disgusting disease and these horrible drugs.
Thus began the adventure to cover my shaved and often cold head.
I am self conscious about my appearance. I already feel as if some people stare at me because of my weight (fat girls never feel like they can completely blend into the scenery). Now, the head makes me stand out that much more. Today, I even had some teens look at me, start whispering and then laugh. Do I know it was about me? Not certainly, but it didn’t feel good nonetheless. Mostly, I feel rather confident with a hat on, but I know people can see the fuzz where the hat doesn’t cover. Fortunately, hats aren’t the end all, be all in head wear.
There are an insane amount of options out there for someone who has had chemotherapy and is losing his/her hair. I didn’t know that from going to the traditional mall. I found a single scarf, a few hats and some flowers to clip on to a headband I had. I thought about scrub caps for work and even bought a few, which I later returned. Lesson one: head gear that rests on the scalp or peach fuzz head will irritate. It rubs wrong, even if the material is rather soft.
Lesson two: covering every area where hair would be is an option if you want it. You just have to be willing to cover part of your ear as well.
I learned these lessons at Commenci, which is a boutique here in Tucson that specializes in different options for cancer patients and survivors. They not only have a selection of head gear for the chemo patient who has lost his/her hair, but they also carry specially padded bras and swimsuits for women who have had mastectomies. The ladies there are so incredibly knowledgeable and willing to spend time teaching you about different options and how to wear them. They will teach you how to tie scarves and even design a wig for you cut to your specifications. It’s am amazing place.
From this one trip, I have a lot of options on what to wear during this time. I would like to share them with those that think bald, wigs and scarves are all there is out there. You can be a bald, “brave” cancer patient and still be super fashionable –I say as I wear my Tinkerbell shirt and track pants.
First, I’ll start with the obvious: hats. Personally, I am not a baseball cap person; I don’t think they suit my face/head. For those who like them, they are an excellent choice for head wear. I also highly recommend investing in winter hats if you live in a cold area. I live in Arizona and still run around with a hat on my head most of the time, especially at night. No hair makes for a very cold head. The purple sparkle cap was purchased at Commenci. They recommend that head gear not rest against the head and sell loose, light material that poofs a little around the head.
Turbans are also a great way to cover the head. I found them especially awesome and comfortable. Not only do they come in several colors, they come in a variety of materials and designs. Again, I was told they they should be slightly puffy around the head to keep from rubbing against the scalp or regrowth. Stores like Commenci will help you find the right sizes.
Everyone knows that chemo patients tend to drift towards scarves. I don’t particularly blame them. Silk feels amazing against the skin and that means that a scarf or wrap on the bare scalp would feel amazing. Skin becomes very sensitive during chemo; skin and hair are cells that are constantly regenerating, so chemo kills them off as well. It’s nice to have something soothing to drape over it. I didn’t get to do damage in the scarf department today, but I did buy one with Malika on Monday. I also found a hat/scarf combo that was pretty awesome and learned how to tie scarves appropriately. The knot can be at the base of the neck or up on the side with tails that dangle like hair. Again, we want poof. Nothing is supposed to be tight.
Knit caps came as another recommendation from many a friend and chemo patient. I was fortunate enough to have a friend from work whose mother knits caps with left over scraps of yarn. I had first pick from her most recent lot of beanies, all super soft. If you know someone that knits or crochets, this is a great item to ask for. Just remember you want soft yarn and for them to fit comfortably. I alternate wearing this and a monkey ski-cap to bed.
Finally, there are headbands and a variety of accessories to wear with them. I’ve always loved headbands, even when I had hair. Now, I have an excuse to wear them more often. Warning, unless you think you are cute (and I do), you might not like the headband look. You come across looking a little like a baby. On the positive side, however, Commenci has taught me that headbands and their accessories can be re-purposed as decorations for hats and turbans (shown in picture three). In fact, she recommended that broaches, pins and clip on earrings can be used to add some sparkle to anything worn on the head (photo one is a plain black headband with a flower pinned to it). I happen to love sparkle and flair, so I purchases some great flower clips and pins to add to my head wear.
I am really excited about the prospect of having options. I do, however, really want to get myself a wig in the future as well. I feel that for certain special events I really want to have the option of a beautiful hairstyle instead of a covering. I might be brave, but when I look back at pictures from this time I want to still feel like there was more to me than cancer. As I mentioned previously, hair is part of the definition of a person. We all feel great with the right style and color. As wonderful as the other options are, I want something a little more “normal” for bigger events.
The nurse in me also feels obligated to mention that besides head wear, it isn’t a bad idea to stock up on sunblock and lotions. Just watch what is in them. So far, Mary Kay products haven’t bothered my skin, but I know the harsh sanitizers and soaps at work are starting to.
(And a big thanks to my Mom and Dad for buying me some of the great stuff above! I really appreciate it.)