Blogs Personal Journal All of Us Are Bald Underneath Our Hair

All of Us Are Bald Underneath Our Hair

Written by  Bette Martin
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Our spirits enter this world taking up residence in a human body. At birth we are looked upon immediately for identification of our sex and having all essential parts. Then the exploration begins as to whom the baby resembles and so on. We are now no longer anonymous but have certain identifying features. People relate to us in many different ways and we are soon cognizant of expectations of family, friends, and society. Our body image develops out of all of these influences. When our bodies are found to harbor cancer, the image that we have of our selves can be threatened. Chemotherapy and radiation can result in visible changes that create an adjustment to these body changes.

bette martin cancer survivorThe loss of hair is readily associated with having treatment for cancer. For some persons living with cancer there is minimal hair loss.  Others of us experience the loss of it in clumps from our scalp as well as over the rest of our body. This can create a plethora of body issues. We don’t look the same when we look in the mirror. Our hair reflects our style and offers a chance to express ourselves. For men, although baldness is currently in style and may make it more comfortable for them, it also has an impact for men to lose their hair. Not only do they lose their scalp hair, they may also lose all the facial hair. If they are accustomed to having a beard, it alters the image they are used to seeing of themselves. I think that the bald look being more acceptable does increase the comfort of others when seeing people with no hair. This makes it some what easier for women who are bald due to cancer treatment. I recall that in 1999 when my sister and I traveled to the northeast via a small airline, that when she was wearing a baseball cap it seemed that they were more scrutinizing of her because of the baldness. She reported to me that one day while driving in a Central PA town that someone called her a “skin head.” I think this is less likely to happen today. Recently, I read this quote by Susan McHenry, “Everyone’s bald underneath their hair.”

The difficult part of losing my hair centered more on what it symbolized. It provided concrete evidence that my body was harboring cancer. Baldness symbolized that I had lost some control where I once had it and not just with the hair issue. Previously, I could play with color and style of my hair. When the oncologist told me that recovery could be a long haul, I knew that I had to come to accept that my lack of hair would stay for a while. After seeing other women in the chemotherapy clinic who had gotten wigs that looked so natural, I decided to try a wig. Getting a wig added a dimension of play to the situation. It increased my sense of style by giving me a new look which gave me a focus and a return of some control. This may sound trivial, but when facing a life threatening illness, small things can bring pleasure and intrigue.

bette and carolene discuss losing hair after cancer treatmentRecently, a friend of mine, Carolene, presented me with the question while on vacation: "What is is like to lose your hair?"  I needed some time to think about my answer to that question.  So, when we got back, we sat down and had a conversation that we will share with you in the video below. (Scroll down to watch our video)

With losing the control over my body with hair loss and the physical limitations that changed my lifestyle so drastically, I found myself confronted with deeper issues of self esteem. I soon realized that healing of my body would also require acceptance of it. While style and the appearance of my body are still of interest to me, they are no longer a driving force in my life as they once were. Survival and quality of life have taken front row seats now. My focus is now on living more consciously in the way I relate to myself and others.

Since I have not had disfigurement or loss of a visible body part such as a breast (s), I cannot comment on that loss with full understanding. This kind of visible change in body image presents a more complicated recovery. When we measure ourselves next to the perfect bodies that are presented by the media, it can become a trigger for feeling negative and could affect self esteem. By comparison, the visible effects on my body are minimal; however, I can look at my current scars or the veins that make my legs look like a roadmap and think that my body is no longer appealing and would be a “turn off”. To be honest, I have always had body image issues. Cancer has raised the bar on dealing with these deeper issues. When I find myself thinking negatively about my body, I attempt to redirect myself to the deeper truths about human relationships. In my heart of hearts, I know that unconditional love and acceptance is based on more of a spiritual connection. We are all affected by society’s values which can be skewed and can lead us down the wrong path regarding self worth.

The inner dialogue regarding the state of my body as noted here has me also looking at my own tendency to be rejecting of others based on superficial physical qualities or characteristics. In this way, I agree with Dr. Williams’ idea that cancer can make me a better person. Having been given a life threatening diagnosis is providing me with an opportunity to take a serious look at how I am living my life.

We often speak of the body as the temple of God. As we are part of this world we are keepers of the body and we all know what a responsibility this can be. Maintaining weight, exercising, healthy eating, spiritual growth, emotional health, etc., it is a full time job to be mindful of all of this. Yet, we identify ourselves so much by the state of the body. Cancer can put a big wrinkle in the way we feel about how we look and erroneously diminish our sense of self esteem and self worth. For me it is a spiritual path. At the core of this it is learning self acceptance and self care as well as a deeper relationship with the Creator. Each of us has to find our way through the maze of the effects of cancer and its aftermath on our body, mind, and spirit. In the beginning I was disappointed as I did not think I would get cancer. If it is of help to you, I have moved through that phase. In its place is a reframing of the process with a very different perspective. It takes time and support from others to enable us to process having been diagnosed with cancer.  It helps me to talk about these issues when they arise.

written by Bette Martin

Related Video


#2 Judy Williams 2011-08-29 13:04
Bette, thank you for this video. Your friend Patti sent me the link as my next door neighbor is about to embark on a similar journey. We are all in this life together and one way God blesses me is by allowing me to share resources as well as my journey with others. Seems you've made the same discovery! Blessings to you, Judy
#1 Bette Martin 2011-07-20 09:48
A friend sent this to me in an email and gave me permission to add it here.

" i haven't lost my hair but i have lost a breast. i do have a replacement but it's not the same. nobody told me the implant would always be cold. that's something i should have figured out but it still surprises me. It's a reminder that it's not my body. Of course it doesn't look the same either, the muscle that was under my breast is attached on top now so that with a small flex, my new breast can "jump" up.....very unusual. I do not have an intimate relationship so I don't have to face what it would be like to show my chest to a partner. I think if I found someone attractive I would have a difficult time pursuing the relationship because of my embarrassment. I've always had a great "set" and my image of myself as a sexual person still has that picture of my intact body. I am fortunate enough to still have cleavage which helps me feel a little sexy in clothes."












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