Updated: May 29
Often, I have noticed that it is not always the fatigue or nausea caused by chemotherapy treatment which concerns cancer patients the most – it is the thought of losing their hair. Hair loss makes people feel vulnerable and exposed – other side effects of chemotherapy can be more easily hidden from view, but with hairloss being a visible side effect, its no wonder it is one of the most common fears amongst patients.
Losing your hair is much more than vanity, for many, it is an identifiable symbol that they have been diagnosed with cancer. In the past I have spoken to customers who were frightened that their hair would start falling off in clumps unexpectedly whilst shopping, or immediately after their first chemo treatment. When you are immersed in a world of surgery, doctors appointments and clinical check-ups, these fears (whilst unfounded) feel very real.
As part of a cancer patients support network, there are many things you can do to help a friend or family member:
1 – Do your research
There are plenty of myths out there, so bust them! Don’t leave it to your loved one to figure it all out, they have lots on their mind so find out the facts and help to allay some of their initial fears.
2 – Help Gain Control
When someone has a plan or takes action before their worst fear is realised, they feel in control of the situation. Helping a cancer patient find a wig or find some comfortable hats or scarves in colours they might like will take the pressure off them. Whether you buy a chemo hat as a gift or share what you have found together over a cup of tea, helping with a plan for hairloss will make the inevitable feel less daunting.
Many chemotherapy patients book an appointment to have their head shaved in advance of hairloss in order to seize control over when it happens. If your friend or family member wants to do this, join them and actively support them – its always easier when it’s done with friends.
3 - Be Sensitive
Dismissing hairloss as something “not to be worried about” is easy to say but difficult for a cancer patient to hear, so understand it might be something they are worried about. Losing hair can be upsetting and at its worst, cause depression – the image in the mirror is all of a sudden not what it was and that can be hard to deal with. Gentle encouragement is the key, listen to how they are feeling – you might not be able to put yourself in their shoes, but to listen without prejudice to what they are saying (and often, what they are not saying) will help you learn how to offer the right support.
4 – A little pampering goes a long way
Cancer patients suffering hair loss can get sensitive, dry scalps so a gentle shampoo or perfume free body lotion would be a great gift. If the odds of losing their hair are equal, perhaps buy a really soft hairbrush to minimise any pulling or damage and discourage them from getting their hair coloured or permed whilst undergoing treatment.
As with most things, there is no magic formula to helping a cancer patient through chemotherapy treatment, a lot is based on listening, observing and learning. Understand that your loved one wont want you to avoid them or walk around on eggshells so retain as much normality in your relationship as possible – the smallest gestures are often the most appreciated ones, especially when they come from the heart.