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Please Stop Telling People With Cancer 'It’s Just Hair’

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I didn’t cry a single tear when I decided to shave my head. Honestly, I felt empowered.

It was a Monday morning. I had started losing hair over the weekend, and washing/drying it before work caused almost half of it to fall out. I was partially bald on top of my head, so I walked downstairs and told my husband it was time.

I sat in the kitchen drinking coffee while my 18-month-old son ate his breakfast and my husband buzzed my head. This wasn’t how I planned to start my work week. It was just one of those moments that happened and then it was over.

I was nervous about how I would look without hair, but I was pleasantly surprised by my baldness. I felt strong when I looked in the mirror, like a new badass part of me had emerged. I was able to embrace my hair loss rather than mourn it. I felt pretty good and told myself it would grow back someday. Plus, it’s just hair…

But, this is the issue. We tend to say “it’s just hair” to provide perspective, but these words minimize this often traumatic experience. Although I felt confident bald, I quickly realized this loss is not just about hair.

For some, it’s one of the hardest parts of cancer treatment. Because hair is attached to so much more than our head; it’s part of our identity, our sexuality, our character. Losing it means losing a part of yourself.

This is how cancer is truly evil in its approach; the disease slowly works to strip you down to a fraction of the person you once were. It takes your strength, your health, your happiness and even your hair.

Without hair, including eyebrows and lashes, you feel more exposed and vulnerable. People notice you. They look at you. And they even make comments. Attempting to wearing a wig, head covering or makeup can feel like you’re trying to hide the obvious. There’s no escaping your reality.

If our eyes are the windows to our souls, then hair, brows and lashes are the curtains. Without them, you’re left feeling naked and bare, your soul wide open for the world to see. The baldness brands you as a “cancer patient.” No one even has to know who you are and they get to witness your greatest pain.

I do understand the viewpoint that in the face of cancer and potential death, hair isn’t all that important. Many people feel this way. But even so, it’s not just hair.

It’s another item on a long list of losses during cancer. It’s another way you no longer recognize yourself. It’s another daily reminder of your fearful reality. It’s another part of yourself you have to wait to get back (and it’s not even promised to return in the same way). It’s another experience no one else can really understand.

If you’re struggling with losing your hair, don’t undermine your feelings — they are valid. You are not vain. You are not making a big deal out of nothing. You are not ignoring the big picture. It’s OK to cry and hurt over this loss. It’s OK to hate this part, too.

And if you know someone who is losing their hair from cancer or any other disease or accident, I beg you not to tell them, “it’s just hair.” If they choose that perspective, then great. But their grief is real, for it has roots that grow so much deeper than face value.

Getty image by Maria Voronovich

Originally published: December 27, 2020
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