Resources, responses, and realities of going bald as a young person
By Julia Dawson
My name is Julia, and I’ve been bald twice! I was first diagnosed with leukemia when I was eight, then again when I relapsed at 13 years old, so I know a few things about being bald.
Why do we go bald during treatment?
For me, it was chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses powerful chemicals to kill fast-growing cells in our bodies. Chemo kills cancer cells, but it can also stop other cells from growing too, including our hair. Cyclophosphamide and doxorubicin were the drugs that caused my hair to stop growing, and to start falling out slowly after two weeks.
When I was eight, it was explained to me that my hair might fall out as part of treatment; I was told it was a sign that the chemo was probably working and that it was temporary – my hair would grow back and my body would heal. My parents gave me choices, which really helped:
Did I want to cut my hair short before it started to come out?
Did I want to try hats, scarves, wigs? You must protect your beautiful bald from the sun! (check out some resources below)
How did I want to respond to other people’s looks or comments? (read on for some ideas)
When I was 13, losing my hair was a much different experience – it was scary and emotional. Here are my thoughts as to why:
I was a teen and, like it or not, our teenage brain causes us to be incredibly self-conscious. Researcher David Elkind called this the ‘imaginary audience’ effect – our brains trick us into believing that others are watching and judging us more than they actually are.
My world had expanded and I trusted my parents less (sorry, mom!) As teens, we understand that things aren’t so straightforward and concrete. I realized it might not be a sign the chemo is working, just a sign that the chemo is in me.
People’s habits. People are visual and tend to comment on what they see because it’s easy and indisputable. Hair may feel like a “safe” topic – if you have hair, you may not fully understand the emotional impact of losing it (I dare you to shave your head to get a glimpse of how it feels). Whereas someone may feel like it’s a safe topic, it’s a reminder to us, the ones going through treatment, that cancer is there, within us, affecting our lives in unwanted and unpredictable ways.
Industry. Let’s face it: advertising, media…it’s all designed to sell us products. We are bombarded daily with ads (Buy this! Watch this! Subscribe now!) Not only is it exhausting, but it can truly warp our sense of self-value and of what is important.
So, what is important?
You are. Your physical health, and your emotional health too. Take the time to accept all the things that go along with this cancer journey. Take the time to decide who you want to be while on this journey, who you want around you, and how you want to react to it all.
Do you want to hide your bald and shy away from the comments? Then have a plan for that.
Do you want to show it off? I did – I think others should see our bald, our scars, our cochlear devices etc. I think people should know that kids go through hard things too. If they don’t see it, how else will they know about this world of treatment and that they can actually be a part of it in a supportive and helpful way?
How to respond and how to show it off!
People are going to comment, so it’s best to be prepared. Our family started using the word “random” – by definition, something random is “made, done, happening, or chosen without method or conscious decision.” A stranger who makes a random comment doesn’t know you, they don’t know what is happening with you, and have probably commented with very little thought. Their opinion really does not matter. Sometimes, people close to you say something that may hurt, but this can be random too – not meant to hurt, just said without thought or understanding.
Generally speaking, I think most people ask (and/or stare) because they are curious. So, we may have a fleeting opportunity to educate, to take the opportunity to open their minds to the fact that the world of childhood cancer treatment exists. My favorite line, which usually had a great response, was: “I’m being treated for leukemia, but don’t worry – it’s going well!”
Here are some lines we used to deal with random comments:
“Yes, I’m probably going to lose my hair. Can I borrow yours?”
“Could be worse; I could have lice.”
“Thanks – my oncologist does my hair.”
“I get my hair done at the children’s hospital.”
“You think YOU have bad hair days?”
“No hair, don’t care.”
Thank you for reading my blog post! I wish you all the best on your journey 🙂
Within the Hospital
Your hospital social worker may know of free wig programs for kids. Contact them before purchasing anything!
Your nurse clinician may know when toques/hats are being donated to the hospital and may be able to set one aside for you.