LEARNING HOW TO PROPERLY SUPPORT A SPOUSE WHO HAS LOST HIS OR HER HAIR FROM CANCER TREATMENT IS VITALLY IMPORTANT.
When we get married, we make a vow to our spouse or partner. In the throws of being in love, we might even make those agreements thinking that we will be spared from the experience of being “poorer” or “in sickness.”
But what happens when life and health suddenly thrust you into the unimaginable situation of caring for a spouse or partner who has received the unfortunate news of a cancer diagnosis? The stomach flu or a cold is one thing — my wife actually prefers to be left alone when she’s sick. But cancer? The almost sudden guarantee of losing your hair? What do you do?
The “what” really starts from the moment your doctor delivers the news. So, here are my five recommendations for creating a loving path forward to support your partner, and if applicable, your kids, in dealing with both the illness and the hair loss.
Five recommendations for loving support your spouse suffering from cancer-related hair loss
- This isn’t about you. Yes, your life is impacted by the feelings that come forward in the decisions that will need to be made, decisions that could drastically alter life as you know it. Remember, too, that it’s not your hair that may be falling out in gobs in the shower drain or on the pillow next to you.
- Speak up. Don’t wait for them to tell you what they need. Ask. Offer suggestions and ideas that you imagine would be helpful. Remaining present and communicative is going to be your savior now and in the long run. The more you’re talking, the less is left to chance or upset. Does he want to wear a hat or bandana? Does she want to shave off her hair before it starts to fall out, in order to alleviate the slow, painful reality? Not all who undergo cancer treatment lose their hair, so making the decision is ultimately up to them. They just need to know you support them in whatever they decide.
- There are logistical issues, for example, doctors’ appointments, treatments, carpool, and home responsibilities, and so forth, and then there is heartfelt communication — the sharing of feelings and the wide range of emotions that are taking place in both of you. Both need to be discussed without neglect. It would be natural for a spouse or partner to suddenly question if your attraction is still there since we’re now physically looking at someone whose presence has been altered. And, it wouldn’t be surprising for you if that is indeed the case. Just decide how much information is really important here. The last thing you want to do is lie to your partner, and you also don’t want to say too much, which could be upsetting and possibly impede that individual’s treatments and subsequent healing process.
- If you have kids, you’ll want to keep their lives as normal as possible, so knowing how your spouse feels about what needs to take place or what the kids need to know or see up close and personal needs to be aired and agreed to. There’s no right or wrong here. Just be aware that regardless of their ages, kids are very smart and pick up on not only what is said but also what isn’t being said. Leaving them to their own devices is not always a great path to choose. Checking in with them to see how they’re doing becomes critically important, especially when they lose access and the parent is now a patient. Preparing them for when that parent will most likely lose her hair is just as significant.
- When hair loss does occur, many partners and spouses, mostly men, will shave their own heads in solidarity. I think this is a wonderful choice provided you’re not a hair model and will lose your source of income. Additionally, if you do have kids, be prepared to explain this choice to them ahead of time. Coming into a room and suddenly seeing Mom and/or Dad bald can be pretty traumatic for a child. If your kids want in on the action and bald is to become a family affair, consider a family meeting to make sure everyone is on the same page. Kids often act impulsively and make decisions without thinking about the repercussions. The last thing you want is to be managing their emotions and the reactions they get from friends and other kids at school.
It’s important to be reminded that there are no right or wrong answers to these and other questions and concerns. Heartfelt communication creates heartfelt choices where respect and dignity can be found.