Tips on coping with hair loss

There are two days from 2008 that I remember like it was yesterday:

  1. The day my mom told my family that she was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer.
  2. And the day I saw my mom without any hair for the first time.

For an 11-year-old girl who was so used to seeing mommy’s beautiful, thick, dark curls, this was a huge change.

I remember the exact moment I saw her. I felt a wide range of emotions, but mainly:

Sadness.

Confusion.

And even guilt.

I felt bad that I had hair and my mommy didn’t. It made me want to shave my head and give her my own hair. It was a lot to take in for a little girl – especially since I was already going through puberty and watching my own body change.

But this day wasn’t only memorable cause it was the first time ever seeing my mom bald,

It was the first time I saw her as a cancer patient.

The first time I clued in.

The first time I looked at my mom and thought,

Holy cow, my mom has cancer.

It was the first time everything felt real and that I realized our cancer journey was about to begin.

Fast forward ten years to present day. Same thing is about to happen. My mom will be starting an IV chemo treatment soon where she’s going to lose all of her hair. But since I’ve already been through this once, I know how to cope.

Based on my personal experience, here are some tips to help you and your mom (or loved one) cope with hair loss:

1. First, remember that not all chemotherapy treatments cause hair loss
  • I think we have this common belief that cancer automatically means chemotherapy and hair loss. But just because your mom (or loved one) is treating their cancer with chemotherapy, does not mean they are going to lose their hair. As I mentioned in a previous post, there are several different chemotherapy treatments that have different side effects, many of which don’t include hair loss. If your mom (or loved one’s) treatment causes hair loss, their doctor will let them know before they begin the treatment.

 

2. Consider shaving their head before treatment begins
  • My mom did this ten years ago before she started chemo. Like her, a lot of cancer patients choose to shave their heads before starting treatment because they feel more in control shaving it themselves than seeing it fall out on its own. Shaving their heads beforehand also prevents hair from falling out in unwanted places, like the kitchen floor and clogging up the shower drain.

 

3. Ask them if they’re comfortable with “cancer hats”
  • “Cancer hats” are designed for patients who have lost their hair from chemotherapy, and while us daughters may think they’re cute and advocate their illness, not all patients want to wear a hat that screams “I have cancer!” My mom is especially vocal about this – she doesn’t like drawing attention to her cancer. So before buying your mom (or loved one) a hat with a cancer logo, make sure they’re comfortable wearing it.

 

4. Be open to their opinion on wigs
  • My mom always wondered what it’d be like to be blonde, so she was excited to try on all sorts of wigs. Although we had some fun picking out different kinds, she quickly learned that wigs just weren’t for her. She said they got hot and itchy, especially in the summer, and they didn’t sit well on her head. At first, I couldn’t stand the thought of her not wearing wigs, but then I realized I just wanted her to be happy and comfortable. She eventually found comfort wearing baseball caps instead of wigs. So while wigs might be suitable for some patients, they’re not for everyone. Just listen and be open to their preferences.

 

5. Most importantly, constantly remind them that they’re still beautiful
  • A lot of cancer patients feel less confident and physically attractive when they lose their hair, so make sure you’re constantly validating their beauty. It’s also important to remind them that it’s just hair they’re losing, and it’ll eventually grow back. My mom used to constantly worry about losing her hair, but then she realized there were more important things to worry about than her hair loss. However, if your mom (or loved one) is still struggling to feel confident, there are some great makeup tutorials for cancer patients on YouTube.

 

Every cancer patient is going to cope with hair loss differently. Whether they decide to wear hats, wigs, scarves, or nothing at all is entirely based on personal preference. Regardless, just make sure you’re there supporting their decisions and making them feel comfortable.

Guest Blogger, Emily Morphy: A Great-Granddaughter’s Perspective

Hi, my name is Emily Morphy and I want to talk to you about how to cope with cancer through a great-granddaughter’s perspective.

My great-grandma, Bernice Siddall, just turned 100 years old on August 30th.

She grew up on a farm outside of London, ON with seven brothers and sisters. Bernice spent her life as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse while raising three children.

Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in her mid-50s and she decided to have a mastectomy.

It was a brave decision.

Today, my great-grandma is living in a nursing home struggling with health issues. However, she has love from her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who are always close by.

Here are some tips from a great granddaughter’s perspective on how to cope:

1. Be there
  • Spend time with the people you love… regardless of their age. This could mean just talking to them on the phone or eating dinner together.
  • Support your parents and grandparents by being patient.
2. Ask questions
  • It is OK if you don’t understand what’s happening, just ask.
  • But, as Sara has mentioned, be aware of how often you ask, “how are you doing?”
3. Express your emotions
  • Through sports, journaling, meditating, blogging, etc.
  • Express yourself in a way you feel your best!
4. Have a support system 
  • Keep positivity in your life with the people around you; therefore, remove the negativity in your life.
  • Regardless if your support system is friends, family or a pet, keep someone close to talk to. 
5. Most importantly: take care of yourself
  • I prioritize taking care of myself by relaxing. I always feel better watching a light-hearted TV show… Friends is definitely my top choice!
  • One of my favourite things to do is grab a bath bomb and relax in a hot bath.

I want to hear about your experiences and tips you have – leave it in the comments below!

Five things you can do for your mom fighting cancer

Last week, I covered ten things you can do for yourself when your mom has cancer.

This week, I’ll be shifting the focus and discussing things you can do for them.

As I mentioned in my first post, cancer is a battle you fight together. When someone in your life has cancer, they need your love and support to help them fight – and win.

From a daughter’s perspective, here are five things you can do for your mom (or loved one) fighting cancer:

1. Spend time with them

I cannot stress enough how important it is to spend quality time with your loved one when they have cancer. Cancer is so unpredictable; anything can happen, so you need to make the most out of the time you have together. They also don’t want to be thinking about their cancer 24/7, so it’s important to help them take their mind off it. These are some things my mom and I do together:

  • Watch a movie
  • Take our dog for a walk
  • Go shopping
  • Go out for breakfast

Pro-tip: when your mom has cancer, all the little things count.

2. Lend a hand around the house

You know how you get symptoms when you have a cold? Imagine having cancer symptoms – they’re a million times worse (will discuss this further in future posts). There’s going to be days where they’re in substantial pain or have low energy, and that’s where you can step in to help around the house. You can help by:

  • Washing/drying the dishes
  • Taking the dog for a walk
  • Setting the table
  • Assisting with dinner/baking (especially around holidays)
  • Doing the laundry

The list continues. But it’s also important to ask them if they need any help first. Sometimes they’ll say no and that’s okay. Remember, they don’t want to feel like a cancer patient 24/7, so they may want to do housework themselves without any help.

3. Keep them in the loop with your life
  • This is especially important if you’re away at school like I am. I’m living an hour away from my family and I come home at least once a month. Letting my mom know that I’m doing okay has really helped ease the stress and made her feel better. I tell her about my week at school, what I had for dinner, what my weekend plans are, etc. It doesn’t have to be much, just make an effort to talk. Like I said, the little things count.
4. Buy them a pet
  • I’m serious. My mom has told me several times how owning a dog has brought so much joy to her life. If your loved one with cancer currently doesn’t have a pet, consider getting them one.
5. Don’t overwhelm them with questions
  • Specifically, the question, “how are you doing?”
  • I’ve learned that it’s okay to ask them how they’re doing but be cautious about how often you’re asking. They’re probably already feeling overwhelmed, so constantly bombarding them with questions and asking how they’re feeling could stress them out even more. As I’ve mentioned, they don’t want to constantly be reminded of their cancer, so while it’s perfectly okay to check in, just limit the number of times you ask.

Ten things you can do for yourself when your mom has cancer

Cancer is a battle, but not just for the patient.

Watching someone you love fight cancer is a battle of its own.

A battle against:

Stress.

Anxiety.

Trauma.

Fatigue.

And sometimes even depression.

One of the most important things I’ve learned from watching my mom battle cancer is that you need to take care of yourself.

I used to find myself constantly worrying about my mom’s cancer and making sure she was okay.

But then I realized I was the one who wasn’t okay.

And I didn’t want to admit it.

I was scared to confess that I needed help, but once I did, I learned how to prioritize my well-being and found some (healthy) ways to deal with my stress.

Based on my personal experience, here are ten things you can do for yourself if you have a loved one battling cancer:

1. Let your teachers and employers know what’s going on
  • I’ve run into several occasions at school and work where I’ve broken down into tears. Sometimes you can’t help it, and that’s okay. But letting your teachers and employers know what’s going on can really help ease the stress. From my experience, they’ve been more than understanding and accommodating.
2. Vent to your friends
  • Your friends genuinely care about your well-being and want to be there for you – so let them. They might not fully understand what you’re going through, but they want to help. Don’t feel like a burden for venting your feelings to them, that’s what they’re there for.
3. Let your friends know that you don’t want to talk about it
  • You’re also going to have days where you don’t feel like talking about cancer at all, and that’s okay – but your friends may not know that. If the subject is brought up, don’t be afraid to say you’d rather talk about something else. Trust me, they’ll understand.
4. Write in a journal
  • If you don’t feel like communicating your thoughts or feelings with anyone else, write them down in a journal – even if you’re not a writer. You don’t have to be a good writer to keep your thoughts or feelings in a private journal.
5. Get an adult colouring book
  • I’m serious. Colouring, painting, and even drawing have been proven to be therapeutic ways for relieving stress. Plus, it’s fun!
6. Exercise
  • Exercise has also been proven to relieve stress. I always feel my mood has improved after I go for a run or walk around the block.
7. Listen to music
  • I always feel more relaxed when I’m listening to music through my earphones. It feels like a mini escape from the world. (Earphones in, world off).
8. Stay organized
  • Staying organized can keep your stress level under control. I personally found keeping a daily planner and writing all my tasks and upcoming events in a calendar really helped.
9. Go out and have fun
  • I cannot stress enough the importance of distracting yourself and maintaining a balance when your loved one has cancer. If you constantly find their cancer on your mind, go out, have fun, and distract yourself; go to the fair, the bar, a ball game, the movies, etc.
10. Talk to a counsellor
  • If you’re still struggling with handling stress, consider speaking with a counsellor. Sometimes talking to your friends and family isn’t enough. Talking to someone unbiased, outside your regular circle can be really beneficial, and they can help you find additional ways to cope.

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