We are beautiful without it!
Of all the things I was suddenly faced with once I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, losing my hair wasn’t at the top of my worry list. Although I professed not to care about this side effect of chemotherapy, it was an agonizing experience. I thought I had a fail-proof plan to shave my head the second my hair started to exit, but that plan fell apart when I became a high infection risk after my first chemo. As the hair loss started, it was both physically and mentally painful. Think you had some bad hair days? I would argue that’s nothing compared to losing your hair one handful at a time, so quickly it only takes a week, and your head hurting so much you can’t lay on it during the process. Or feeling like an alien once your eyebrows and eyelashes also disappear.
So here was yet another thing I had no control of in this new life after cancer. But two things I realized I could control – how I dealt with my feelings, and how quickly I could get past this obstacle. So I chose to accept the new me, not to wear a wig, and instead to incorporate my usual “fancy” style. I utilized many hats, scarves, and headbands (some were precious gifts from friends and family); the more sparkle and color they had, the better! These head coverings became my symbol of strength, my sticking my nose up at the monster and loving myself in spite of what the battle physically took from me. I never, ever thought of myself as beautiful until all my hair – that very outward symbol of beauty – was abruptly stripped away. I found my inner beauty, and it radiated for all to see for the first time in my life. No one seemed to notice that I was bald.
That’s when I learned that beauty had nothing to do with hair or anything seen on our outer shell. It’s an inner belief that you project outward. I had to make a choice – learn to love myself no matter what I saw in the mirror, or spend months feeling down and avoiding mirrors, cameras, and people. I decided the monster would not take this time from me, and began seeing myself and everyone else’s outward appearance as only a vessel for the beauty that is inside. One of my favorite comments in this journey was when a colleague wrote to me and said “your confidence without your hair makes you even more beautiful.” For those of you that are lucky enough not to have fought this monster, remember that comment. It was probably the best thing someone could have said to me after I lost my hair.
I routinely talk with others going through chemotherapy, and hair is one of the most frequent discussion topics, right up there with treatment side effects. Questions like – Did you lose your hair too? Is that really your own hair? What color and texture was it when it came back? How long did it take to come back? – top the list. I look forward to these wonderful conversations, which often end in laughter about all the things that go along with chemo hair loss, including all the places you lose it from, trying to draw eyebrows, what shape our bald head is/was. And this laughter is healing. The beautiful faces of these hairless women and men is simply unparalleled anywhere else.
Find and love the beautiful person you are inside, and that beauty will shine through to the outside. And you’ll never perceive you’re having a bad hair day again!
Sharon Civa is an ovarian cancer survivor, and an Information Technology Officer for Penn Radiation Oncology. She also volunteers providing support to those going through cancer treatment.