It may come as a surprise when a loved one or friend with cancer seems to fret more about the notion of losing hair than fatigue, nausea, and pain. Experiencing hair loss is a very common fear among cancer patients. Unless you have experienced hair loss yourself, it isn’t possible to know what your friend or loved one is feeling. Hair loss makes cancer patients feel exposed and vulnerable. Something this visible can cause an unwelcome intrusion, transforming a personal health struggle into one that is public. There are many things you can do to help, starting with understanding that coping with hair loss is about more than vanity. Here are five tips that will help you empower your loved one as they deal with hair loss.
Be Sensitive About Body Image Issues
Men and women deal with hair loss differently. Of course, going bald is a reality for many men who are perfectly healthy, and nevertheless, it is a sore subject. When a person is coping with hair loss related to cancer or other illness, the need to be sensitive is even greater. Losing hair on the head, eyebrows, and eyelashes can make women feel less feminine and attractive. While not as obvious, body hair loss in men can be just as difficult, causing them to question their masculinity. Losing hair can trigger sadness or depression, and often a good way to deal with this is to gently encourage your friend or loved one to discuss these feelings. The best approach is to be supportive, which above all means being a good listener.
Follow This Principle: You Love Them, Not Their Hair
It is difficult to shake the cultural and personal attachment we have to hair, therefore coping with its loss can evoke many negative emotions. Your loved one may fear rejection due to all of the physical changes she is undergoing, which may lead to anxiety. An effective and reassuring tactic is to say that you did not fall in love with her hair and she is still beautiful inside and out. However, it is important to acknowledge that hair loss can alter self-esteem. So it’s a fine line you’ll need to walk between offering encouraging, loving words and dismissing what she is feeling.
Encourage Joining a Support Group
Gently broach the subject of a support group – a caring environment in which to share similar experiences. If your loved one is open to this idea, encourage her and offer to contact local hospitals to see if they host a group. Joining a cancer support group is a great way to meet and talk to other people coping with cancer and hair loss. A supportive setting can result in bonding, having fun picking out wigs and hats together, and even lead to enduring friendships.
When she is less distressed and ready, take an active role in the wig and hat buying experience. While selecting a wig is a very personal thing, there is no reason why you cannot help. You can accompany her to wig shops or look through online catalogs together. If she expresses concerns about being superficial or vain, tell her you understand that it is important to do whatever it takes to feel empowered during this challenging time. Selecting a flattering wig and an array of cute hats and scarves can really lift a person’s spirit while dealing with the realities of coping with cancer- or disease-related hair loss.
Encourage Healthy Hair Strategies
While a loved one might be tempted to try hair loss strategies, according to experts, these do little or nothing to combat hair loss associated with chemotherapy; e.g., wearing an ice cap during chemotherapy or using Rogaine. With that said, a helpful gesture is to buy products that moisturize and alleviate a sensitive dry scalp, such as perfume-free lotion and gentle shampoo. In addition, buy the softest brush available and discourage her from getting salon treatments like hair coloring and permanents. While undergoing chemotherapy, the heat and chemicals associated with these services will cause hair to fall out.
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