How many of you thought, "bald?"
Typically, that's the most noticeable side effect to many chemotherapy treatments. Women diagnosed with breast cancer often ask, "Will I lose my hair?" long before they ask, "Will I die?"
One of my pet peeves are those adults who shave their heads in "solidarity" with a cancer patient. They do so with good intentions, but I often ask, "What good does this do for the person with cancer?" (I have a few exceptions to this and most of them are involved with supporting toddlers and young children with limited understanding as to the meaning behind their hair loss.)
I have watched many a news story about a friend who shaves their head in support of a cancer patient. Most of the time, the emphasis is on the friend, rather than on the patient.
Imagine this conversation:
"Why did you shave your head?"
"Oh! I shaved my head to support my friend, Sally, who has cancer!" This is spoken in either a breathless voice or a sorrowful voice, depending upon the mood.
The questioner replies, "Oh, that is so wonderful of you! What a good friend you are! I could never do such a thing! You are so beautiful! Wow, your friend is so lucky to have you in her life."
How did this help Sally? Was anything said or done to support Sally in her life with cancer?
When my hair fell out during my first chemo, it physically hurt the follicles. Sleeping was painful as my head rubbed against the pillow and I quickly shaved my head to avoid hair being pressed against my sore scalp.
I never got a wig as I found the idea of them to be quite unappealing. I either wore a hat or just walked around bald. It never bothered me.
It doesn't lessen a cancer patient's pain to have someone else shave their head. A healthy person's hair will start to grow immediately. In as little as a week, stubble will be seen on a healthy person's head. Not so for a cancer patient. Once chemotherapy treatment is finished, it can be up to four months before the head is fully covered with hair again.
There are many side effects to chemotherapy and the bald head is the most visible one. However, why would I wish that side effect upon anyone? I have unseen side effects which cause me way more pain than losing my hair did. My current chemo doesn't cause hair loss, but it can (and does) cause hand and foot syndrome, a not-so-publicly-known side effect. Most people don't even know I'm on chemo since I have a full head of hair. Yesterday was the last day of my chemo cycle (I take chemotherapy pills for seven days on and seven days off.) and about mid-afternoon, my feet started to hurt quite a bit. We've been adjusting the dosage of my chemotherapy to combat rising tumor markers (which are reliable for me), but it looks like this most recent increase is going to be too much. I've had headaches most of the week and I woke up this morning with an explosion of blisters and/or hot spots in my feet, making walking very painful.
I wouldn't wish these side effects on anyone. I don't think anyone would want them, either. So why do people "want" the side effect of being bald? Could it be that it has more to do with attention than it actually has to do with support?
I don't see anyone offering to throw up to support a cancer patient. I don't see anyone offering to take laxatives so they can experience the explosive diarrhea a cancer patient can have. I don't see anyone offering to take fiber tablets to combat serious constipation that cancer patients can have. I don't see people giving up food to support the medical anorexia that some cancer patients experience. I don't see anyone offering to take steroids that cause constant hunger, resulting in weight gain, that some cancer patients have.
No. The only side effect that I see healthy people offering to take on is the one that is the most temporary, yet the most attention getting.
I know this is a touchy subject. I know many people have had friends shave their heads in "support." I'm stepping out here to ask anyone considering such a move to not do so. People with cancer need more support than a bald head. A friendship doesn't have to prove itself with antics such as these. A friendship shows its support via some of the following:
Cook a meal.
Do grocery shopping.
Do yard work.
Wash a car.
Be a chemo buddy.
Send a card.
Be a chauffeur.
Go to a movie with your friend.
Bring a move to your friend if she can't go out.
Make library runs for your friend.
Buy a gas card.
Pay an electric bill.
Call or text your friend.
Don't say, "What can I do?" Watch for what you can do.
Support the family of your friend.
Keep it all about your friend.
Take your cues from your friend as to what is appropriate or not.
LAUGH! This doesn't diminish what your friend is going through, but it reminds us of joy.
Don't shave your head.