How cancer made hair donation more meaningful

When I reached 5 years since my diagnosis, I knew I wanted to donate my hair again. I used to donate my hair prior to cancer because I like to donate anything I can, when I can, and it just made sense. It was something easy for me to do that I knew would have a huge impact on someone struggling with hair loss. 

Having lost my own hair now, it means so much more to me. I was terrified of the idea of losing my hair, partly because I was scared of what I would look like but primarily because it made my illness visible. It became commonplace for people to make comments to me when I was bald. I built up a thick skin, knowing some people were simply nosy but many had kind intentions even if the comments were still inappropriate. 

Why is it that strangers feel they can comment on your appearance or illness, simply because it’s visible? I never quite understood it and I’m sure my temporary experience is minor compared to those who have a permanent, visible illness or disability. I went the first 25 years of my life with only the occasional comment and all of a sudden it was like my public existence, as a bald woman with an occasional scar showing, was an invitation to approach me with questions or comments.

Many questions were a variation of “Did you choose to go bald? You’re rocking it!” AKA I want to know if you’re sick without asking if you’re sick. I also received a comment by a grocery store clerk about my port scar, since it was apparently showing and appeared to still be healing. That one resulted in her asking what type of surgery I had and if I was okay. What if I wasn’t okay?! Why is it any of her business? 

I also received stories from strangers about family members or loved ones who had cancer, some who passed away, in an attempt to…connect, I guess? In case you were wondering, stories about cancer patients who haven’t survived are not helpful to someone who currently has cancer. I do not need a reminder that I have a life-threatening illness, thank you very much.

I could tell strangers didn’t have any bad intentions when they would comment or ask questions so I never took any of it to heart, but it definitely made a difference in how I felt when leaving my house each time. I had to put on my metaphorical armor so that I could brace myself for whatever comments might come. Not everyone wants to have to do that when they leave their house. I didn’t want to either, but I tolerated it because I preferred to embrace my baldness. It wasn’t easy though and I hold absolutely no judgment to others who wear scarves or wraps or wigs, which is why I continue to want to help those individuals by donating my own hair.

The hair regrowth process caused a lot of anxiety for me because people no longer assumed I was sick so I simply looked like I had a bad haircut when it was at awkward stages. And let’s be honest, until it got to chin-length, every stage was awkward for me. I just wasn’t able to rock the shorter hairstyles and I really didn’t feel like myself a lot of the time. It was hard on me, and honestly the time where I personally would have considered a wig the most, but I pushed through it.

All this to say, cutting 10 inches of hair to donate still gave me a little anxiety. It was my first major haircut since cancer and it took a long time to grow my hair out. Cutting it back to chin length was scary for me but if I learned one thing throughout my journey, it’s that I could handle it. I could handle the fear and anxiety. I could handle getting used to shorter hair again. And I could handle it if I didn’t like the length until it grows out a little. 

Donating is more important to me than all of those things, and while I could have waited longer to donate, I really wanted to do this in celebration of my 5 years and in honor of everyone who continues to face cancer. In a strange way, my hair has represented my own regrowth process since cancer; chopping my hair off felt like recognizing how far I’ve come and knowing that I’ll continue to grow.

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