Cancer Survivorship: What About the Chemo Wig?


A breast cancer survivor wonders when it will be “safe” to toss the chemo wig and reflects about going down the road as a cancer survivor.

When will it be “safe” to get rid of my chemo wig?! I am still here. It is good to be here. Life is good. My breast cancer was just over five years ago and my melanoma was just over a year ago. I love to read and hear about cancer survivors who are even further out from their initial diagnoses than I am. How long does it really take to create the so-called new normal? I just like looking back and saying “Hey, I am still here!”

My two children are out of the house. I am happy for them, but some days I feel a little sad too. My husband is changing jobs and we have a the plan to sell our home for a smaller one in town as we get settled in an “up north” weekend cabin we just purchased. But what about the wig?

We are now pretty officially empty nesters. Cancer took some things away and now life changes are creating losses too. I am trying to acknowledge the losses and to celebrate and look forward to some of the upcoming changes.

I don’t feel like I have really processed all of this .. or maybe I am just processing this now, as we go through it. Being an empty nester changes how we eat, how we spend our time, our marriage, what our plans are — everything. Laundry can now be only once per week! Food in the house can be healthy (except when we don’t want it to be).

Some of the other little ways our life is changing: Fewer groceries and emptier rooms, closets and cupboards. It would also be good to unplug ourselves from the television more in the evenings and find other shared hobbies. But what about the wig?

Are we slow in making these changes? My children have been “out” now for about three months. I do wonder what our life will look like in a year. Have we changed too much, too quickly? If so, does that make us reactive instead of proactive? I don’t know.

Sometimes I wonder what my life now, at age 52, would have looked like if I hadn’t gotten breast cancer when I was 46 and a melanoma when I was 51. I wouldn’t have the “cancer box” with the chemo wig safely stored in it.

What is part of normal aging and empty-nesting and what is different because of my cancers? Would I be back at work now full-time if cancer hadn’t happened twice? Many questions about stuff like that are things cancer survivors never truly know.

How much of my memory loss is related to chemotherapy? How much of my fatigue and physical decline is due to cancer and treatment? How much of the changes in my perspective are due to “normal” maturity versus my cancer survivorship experiences? Is it “safe” to toss the wig? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.

Do these questions even matter? Maybe not. Yet as humans, I think we like to know the "why." Sometimes I gain perspective when I talk to people in my age bracket or to fellow cancer survivors. These conversations do help along with the understanding that we can really never totally walk in each other’s shoes. We were individuals before cancer and we are individuals after cancer. We each make our life decisions based on our own values and resources and sometimes it is helpful to hear how others have muddled through all this.

Empty nesting and cancer survivorship. Time seems to fly faster and faster even though I try to slow down and live in the moments. Do you experience that too? Living in the moment and practicing gratitude seems to be the most rational approach. Maybe I just need to forget about the wig. Trying to look too far down the road can sometimes just be futile and frightening. What do you think?

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Dr. Kelly Stratton
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