During the month of October, it's hard to miss the bald women wearing pink everywhere you turn. Promotion after promotion after promotion features that shining bald head ... or that of very short hair that is growing back after being bald. The morning talk/news shows are notorious for having crowds and crowds of bald women outside their studios in order to show their support for (exploit) breast cancer "awareness."
I participate in a cancer forum and a frequent question that pops up is "Should I shave my head in solidarity with my family member who has lost their hair due to chemotherapy treatments?"
My response is typically, "Why? What would shaving your head accomplish?"
Typically, the questioner is a young person who has the idea that if someone voluntarily shaves off their hair, then the person who has lost their hair due to sickness won't feel so alone.
I do support such actions when a young child is involved. Other than that? Such a move strikes me as attention-seeking behavior that directs attention AWAY from the one with cancer and towards the healthy person.
Imagine this conversation:
"Why did you shave your head?"
"Oh, I did it to support my friend, Sally, who has cancer!" (Usually spoken in a breathless voice, or a hushed tone.)
"Wow, what a wonderful friend you are! Sally is so fortunate to have you! You look absolutely beautiful! I could never do something like that! You are so brave!"
End of conversation.
What did that do for Sally? How did that make Sally feel less alone? The shaver's hair will start to grow back immediately ... Sally's hair won't start to grow until after her last chemotherapy treatment.
I have to admit, I've never really been too obsessed with my hair. It's there. I have a lot of it and if I get a bad haircut, it fixes itself in a few days. It grows fast. When I lost my hair, it physically hurt because the hair follicles were so tender. I figured I'd have fun with my bald head and never worried too much about it. Because I lived in China at the time, I did wear a hat whenever I went outdoors, but I never bothered with a wig. The idea of a temporary hair loss didn't bother me.
I do know that other women feel very differently and I know we all cope however we can. My mother had extremely long hair when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and she considered her hair her crowning glory. She hated losing her hair. Absolutely hated it. She died bald and I know that troubled her. We do not have a single picture of her without her wig.
I can't stand the fact that society has indoctrinated us women that our appearance is the most important thing about us. One of the first things a newly diagnosed woman is told about is a program known as "Look Good, Feel Better." Oh, the irony. A woman is handed a potentially fatal diagnosis and in the next breath, she's told about makeup and wigs.
Men aren't given this information. Sexism, anyone?
There are those who run fundraisers by shaving heads. I've never quite understood that ... people making donations in order to see someone else shave their heads. It's that "You have to earn my donation" mentality that has taken over philanthropy in North America (I can't speak for the rest of the world) that fuels such events. It's not good enough to just give ... we have to be entertained before doing so.
Today is Be Bold, Be Bald Day. One buys a skin-toned swim cap through the organizer, decorates it however one desires, wears it on the third Friday of October (This year, that's today, October 16), collects money from donors and submits the funds back to the organizer who then sends the money to the charitable organization of the donor's choice. (There are about 40 groups to choose from.) Last year's Form 990 revenues for the group indicates they raised $161,647. I do not know the percentage that was distributed to the organizations, but the claim made on their site that due to donations beyond the fundraiser itself, "more than 100% of the money raised has been distributed."
I don't really mind fundraisers. But this is the answer for the FAQ, "Why should you do this?"
"To raise money for cancer charities, honor loved ones, and gain a little more understanding about one of the challenges many people with cancer face."
Ah, that would be a no. Wearing a swim cap has absolutely no relationship with losing hair. While losing hair can be considered traumatic, wearing a swim cap doesn't even come close to the experience. Wearing a swim cap doesn't reflect the loss of eyebrows or eyelashes and the eye irritations that result from that. Wearing a swim cap doesn't reflect the loss of nose hair that results in a constantly runny nose. Wearing a swim cap doesn't reflect the pain of hair trying to grow back and follicles getting infected. (I had so many skin infections from hair follicles!) Wearing a swim cap doesn't reflect losing all your arm pit hair or the hair on your arms and legs (no shaving for a while!). Wearing a swim cap doesn't reflect the loss of pubic hair. (Yes, it's true. Very few people talk about that.)
What it does is take the most visible side effect and place it front and center on healthy people. And while it can be an unpleasant side effect, it's not the worst side effect. I don't wish diarrhea, constipation, loss of taste, insomnia, bone pain, light sensitivity, hearing loss, chemo brain, nausea, fatigue ... the list goes on ... for anyone. (To be honest, to me, the worst side effect is crushing fatigue yet being unable to sleep. That just sucks.) Why would I wish baldness upon anyone? Why would anyone want to take any of this on?
The whole bold, bald, beautiful thing then makes people look at me ... a woman with terminal cancer ... and say, "But you have hair!"
"How can you have cancer and still have your hair?"
"How can you be on chemotherapy and not be bald?"
"I don't understand how you can claim to be dying, yet still have your hair!"
"Everyone knows that people with Stage IV cancer are in their last days and they are sickly and bald. You are lying." (Yes, I've been accused of lying.)
The bald head is another example of how awareness isn't the same thing as education.
The reason many Stage IV cancer patients still have hair is because the option of a cure is no longer on the table. Harsh chemotherapy agents (that attack fast growing cells, including hair follicles) are not used as often because the goal is quality of life versus saving life. Also, not all chemo treatments cause hair loss, especially when the treatment is extended over a long period of time versus a short, intense time period.
I would gladly go bald for the rest of my life and never wear a wig if that meant that the cancer was gone from my body. '
Yes, I have hair. I like it short and I'm likely to get it cut within the next couple of weeks.
Being bald was such a minor challenge for me. What cute little program can be thought up for my greatest challenge ... staying alive?