Wigs and Cancer

How much do I have to say about wigs? I’m not even wearing one thanks to my cold cap. Surprisingly, I still have quite a lot to say. I have four wigs. Three of them work well for me.

My experiences at the wig salon located within the Carbone Cancer Center have been wonderful. Over the last eight plus years, my stylist Stephanie has been warm, empathetic, helpful, and has made a real connection with me. She is interested in my life, not just my life with cancer.

Because of our friendship, I’ve done a couple of interviews recently to help promote the wig salon. My main goal was to emphasize the high-quality wigs and personalized service provided there. Inevitably, the reporters also wanted to talk about my story. Both interviews have happened when I’m not currently wigging which made them slightly awkward for me. I feel it pulls away from the focus of highlighting the wig program offered. It’s pretty easy for someone with hair to talk about her memories. I can’t help but think of myself as hypocritical. Admittedly, I do not understand when others walk down memory lane and sound wistful. I just don’t get it. Perhaps someone currently going through chemo induced hair loss would have told a more poignant story for my most recent interview. Anyway, I’ve tried in each of them to come back to the role wigs have had in my experience.

My last interview was done over the phone. I was asked how wearing a wig made me feel. Did it make me feel more normal? I knew what the student journalist was asking, yet normal wasn’t the right word. I know I’ve used the word normal before to describe how wearing a wig made me feel, but the thing is it’s all relative.

When I first dabbled with the choice to wear a wig or not, I did not wear one. I hated it. Wraps made me feel normal. Being bald from time to time made me feel normal. Later in life when faced with hair loss again, a wig made me feel more normal. Comparing these two situations, I figured out what I really meant by feeling normal.

Normal meant comfortable. At one point in my life I was more comfortable in wraps and scarves. Another time I was more comfortable in a wig. I was in different places with different comfort levels. Comfort in this instance means both emotional and physical comfort. A wig was a physical manifestation that brought me inner comfort. It was easy to wear.

There was safety in that comfort.

Digging deeper, I realize the word normal also correlated with a need for privacy. I wanted to go about my business without drawing attention to myself. Losing hair is such a public side effect of cancer. Wearing a good wig made me feel less on display. I was able to keep my private life more private to those who didn’t know me. I looked like everyone else and that is where the word normal fits because it is a norm for women to have hair.

There is also safety in that privacy.

Safety is a big thing for me. Cancer doesn’t make me feel safe.

Another question I was asked was whether wearing a wig made me feel more confident. I know I’ve also used this word in the past to describe wearing a wig. During the second interview, I realized confident was not the right word either. I felt the journalist wanted me to use it per the way she was asking the question. I also felt like I wasn’t giving her what she wanted, but I couldn’t agree with her if I wasn’t feeling it. In the end, the published article made only a passing reference to me with a supporting comment I provided about the wig stylist. That’s fine as the wigs and stylist really were the focus. I benefited from our conversation because I finally figured out my feelings on wigs.

Wigs absolutely can make someone feel more confident. Couldn’t they also make someone feel like a fraud? Again, it’s all relative. I struggled when someone commented how nice my short hair (wig) looked years ago in church and thought it was probably so much easier to style. Sure, it was easier, I took it off a wig stand each morning and that was pretty much it. But I said thank you and left it there. I didn’t know her well enough to confide more.

Confidence doesn’t hinge on whether someone has hair or not. I was confident enough being bald. I just didn’t want to be bald. I wanted to have options. It takes confidence to be seen without a wig and not a hair on your head. I was confident enough in wraps and scarves. It takes confidence to know you are rocking your wrap. Confidence is internal. I think it’s based on your personality and a person’s experiences.

If I had been asked about how metastatic cancer steals identity, I would have a lot to say. The same would hold true if I had been asked how metastatic cancer affects my confidence. My sense of identity and confidence have changed throughout my years living with cancer. Sometimes I’ve been a mess. Other times I feel I know a few things about myself and about life. I wobble. I reset. My thoughts can drive me crazy within the course of one day.

I have been comfortable in a wrap, being bald, and in a wig. I’m extremely comfortable with my own hair. Go figure. Normal is as normal does. Normal can be felt at each of these times. Everyone knows what normal feels like and yet it can be hard to put into words. I have felt privacy consistently only in a wig and when my hair has been long enough to be wild and crazy. Comfort and privacy go a long way in helping me feel normal.