On Being Bald

bekah Guest Writer 1 Comment

I’m a tad excited (okay, I’m jumping up and down) to introduce you to today’s Guest Writer, Donna Wells. She’s a dear friend, an incredible writer, and shares with an authentic hope perspective. You’re in for quite a treat.

“When my sweet friend Bekah told me about her encounter (actually it was Ty’s encounter) with a chemo patient in Target, and asked me to write about what it was like to be bald, I realized that in my day-to-day I don’t think about it anymore. But it didn’t take long to remember…and all those feelings came flooding back.

I’ll start with the day that I was told that for the best chance of the cancer not returning, I would have to have chemo. And that on this particular type of chemo, most women gain an average of 10 – 20 pounds. My hair would start falling out approximately 2 – 3 weeks after my first treatment, and that I should go ahead and shave my head as soon as it started falling out in big chunks because it’s too painful to watch that happen for days. Cool. So…I’m going to be fat AND bald. And can we talk about what it’s like to hear the words “falling out in chunks” in reference to YOUR HAIR? It was like an out-of-body experience. Even after being told I had cancer, this news took me to a whole new level of being completely out of control.

I decided to get my hair cut short in order to “prepare myself.” Those that have been there will tell you that it’s somewhat helpful; however nothing can truly prepare you. The day that it started, I had just gotten out of the shower, getting ready for work, combing out my wet hair, sitting on the toilet (multi-tasking. TMI?), and I instinctively looked down when I felt something touch my legs. There it was…I can’t describe the feeling. All I knew was that I didn’t want to feel it again and again as it continued to fall out. The next thing I did was call my son-in-law (we had already planned for it) and asked him to come over that evening and, well, rip off the band-aid. As I continued to style my hair for my work day, I watched as it began to line the bathroom sink. Pride. Vanity. Any notions I had of my own beauty went out the window. Or down the drain, as it were. I went to work, but all day was terrified that I would walk by an air-conditioning vent or a strong breeze and a huge chunk of my hair would come flying off and land on the carpet (not kidding I really thought that). I tried to imagine what I would look like with no hair. I tried NOT to imagine what I would feel like with no hair. It was a LONG day.

I expected that I would cry when I looked at myself for the first time. I did. I didn’t expect that I would wince EVERY time I looked at myself. But I did. I’m serious. I never got used to it. And to this day I still don’t feel as pretty as I did before cancer. I had no idea how cold I would get; I was plagued with violent shivers several times a day for the first few weeks until my body temperature adjusted to having no hair; I had to sleep with a beanie on. I had no idea how embarrassed and shy I would be, or how I wouldn’t even want my own husband to see my bald head. I hid it from everyone the best I could; I trusted very few to see me without my ever-present scarf (hats didn’t cover enough; you could still see part of my head). It was HARD, constantly trying to hide my “ugly” from everyone.

Chemo patients can’t hide, though, I soon realized. Unless they decide not to go out in public until their hair grows back. Bekah didn’t just ask me to write about what it’s like not to have hair, but what it was like to be in public without hair. And did anyone ever stare at me? Or did children make comments? People didn’t stare at me, but they did double-takes (which may be what they do when they’re trying not to stare). And as far as I know, no children ever made comments. But I had plenty of moments in front of the mirror, moments where I self-deprecated and believed the lie that I could only be beautiful with hair. We can’t control our crazy spontaneous children who shout out whatever comes into their heads. And if they do notice that there’s a girl with a bald head, do what Bekah did. Have a conversation with them about the fact that she (or he!) might be fighting an illness, and they are brave and beautiful and we should tell them THAT.

Tell them that female baldness is likely a side-effect of something else. If it’s a result of a serious illness, there may be so much more emotion than being embarrassed about being bald. There could be fear, anxiety, sadness, hopelessness. And they may look around and all they see are people that look better than them and those people are happy and they are without fear and they don’t care about you and they are not ugly, like you. And you’re envious of that and you feel desperate to feel normal again, not just physically but emotionally. Think about what’s “behind the bald.” When you have or have had a serious illness, you become a slave to a new normal of endless regular clinical procedures, big scary machines, routine and painful tests and trials. For years. Remember that when you see someone with a bald head; it could be and probably is so much more.

Take a second and tell them they’re beautiful. Without saying it, you’re also telling them that you see them and you KNOW. And that you care. I had those people in my life; in an act of solidarity my son-in-law shaved his head after he shaved mine, and my co-workers showed up the next day with scarves on their heads. They told me I rocked the bald. And my favorite, Kathleen Doyle, told me I looked ‘badass.’

I believe that when God allows us to have cancer, he does so much to redeem it. He makes us brave to endure the road ahead. He makes us beautiful on the inside so it changes us and somehow makes us beautiful on the outside. He brings people that will tell us, in the grocery store or Target or at church or the mall. Next time you see someone bald and beautiful, tell them. Pretty sure they need to hear it.”


{Donna writes at Dwells, a blog about choosing a hope perspective. She is passionate about food, her husband, her daughters, her grandkids, food, reading, writing, and food. Donna loves being outside, playing, riding her bike, and the beach. As of this post, she’s a 3-year cancer survivor. You can follow her beautiful writing and heart here.}


Comments 1

  1. Donna, Your story has many parallels to my own journey. Thank you for expressing in a beautiful way what many of us cancer survivors have felt. Thank you Bekah for including us in your teachable moment. May the Lord continue bless you both.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *