It may sound like a small thing when you are fighting for your life, but losing your hair due to breast cancer treatments can be soul-crushing.
Our hair plays a starring role in the way others view us and more importantly, the way we view ourselves, several studies show. The fact is, hair has deeply-rooted psychosocial implications — and the fallout can mess with your head.
Hair loss is symbolic.
Looking in the mirror can remind the cancer survivor of her (or his) diagnosis. Losing one’s hair can be as traumatic for some people as losing a close friend or family member.
Hair loss is the one truly visible part of having cancer. It tells the world “Hey, I’m sick!” and that ever-present social stigma can further foster convincing inward emotions of “not feeling whole”.
Like it or not, hair is also strongly associated with sexual attraction and the social norms of beauty the world over. That being the case, its loss can cause deep emotional issues such as added distress, low body image and self-esteem, anxiety and depression. Research shows that this is true in children and men, as well as women.
Dealing with chemo-induced hair loss is becoming increasingly recognized as a critical unmet need in oncology because self-image, cultural norms, and religious beliefs all affect how women cope with cancer and respond to its treatment.
“Cancer patients often feel hair loss not only changes how others view them, but how they view themselves,” said Dr. Rose Weitz, a sociology professor at Arizona State University.
“Hair loss is not only more obvious, but it also takes away the part of the body that women associate with health, whereas mastectomies remove a part that the women have come to see as a source of disease.”
Dr. Sara Hurvitz , an assistant clinical professor of hematology/oncology and director of the UCLA breast cancer program hopes to change the emotional toil of hair loss.