In many cases, losing your hair is part of cancer treatment and it can be very emotional. For me, it symbolized so much more than just a physical change.
Dana Stewart was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 at the age of 32. She is the co-founder of a cancer survivorship organization called The Dragonfly Angel Society. She volunteers as an advocate and mentor, focusing on young adults surviving cancer. She enjoys writing about life as a cancer survivor, as well as connecting survivors to the resources, inspirations and stories that have helped her continue to live her best life, available at www.dragonflyangelsociety.com.
When I meet new cancer survivors or those still in active treatment, one of the first things they say to me is “Your hair is so long!”
They have this look in their eye that I know very well. I can see their thoughts as they are thinking them, “when will my hair be that long again?”
I asked that question almost daily as I was going through treatment. For me, losing my hair was almost harder than hearing the words “you have cancer.”
I lost my breasts, I lost my piece of mind and I lost my hair. Which one bothered me the most? I can answer without second thought: My hair. Is that vain? Maybe. Involuntarily lose your hair and you will might find yourself thinking otherwise. Personally, I think it was just about the hardest thing to handle as a patient going through treatment. When all my hair was gone, I felt like I looked the part of a patient with cancer.
I know, I know, cancer and hair don’t define you, but actually going through that moment ... I kind of felt like it did. I couldn’t help feeling that way. As time went on, I got used to my bald head (I had to live with it for six months, after all). I started to learn that things were sometimes easier without hair. Shower time is fast! Washing the baldness only takes a few quick seconds and the savings on shampoo and conditioner are amazing! It was easy to get ready in the morning because I didn’t have to use all those minutes for hair prep time — I just grabbed a scarf and was out the door.
When I think back to that point of my cancer journey, I realize it still affects me, even years later. That surprises me sometimes. We all go through so much once a cancer diagnosis is handed to us and we all handle it differently. The decisions, the losses, the fears, etc., all add up.
For me, hair loss was my breaking point. I was strong through everything else. I handled all the doctor appointments with my head held high and a smile on my face. I didn’t shed a tear until the meeting with the oncologist and he told me the timing of my chemo treatment starting and when to expect the hair to start falling out. My head snapped up. “My, my, my hair will fall out?” I stuttered.
I knew this. Of course I knew this. What I knew all along had been said verbally and that was the moment cancer had officially become real. The hair was really just a symbol of the journey. It was a symbol of the tribulations we face as survivors. It is clearly so much more than just the hair itself. It grows back, we know that. There are so many ways to work around it in the meantime. The hair symbolizes all the loss and all the decisions we face.
Years later, I wrote myself a poem to help me define what the hair loss truly represented. It’s a reminder of all that is lost as a cancer survivor, but what you still gain as you go through the journey.
Let It Fall
Let it fall, hair to the ground
Let it fall, tears from my eyes
Let it fall, anxiety from my mind
Let it fall, eyes of others looking from my bald head
Let it fall, hope that cancer would never affect me
Let it fall, anger of one
Let it fall, fear of the future
Let it fall, the what-should-have-beens from the past
Let it fall, who you once were before
Let it fall, belief in today