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Bald, bold and beautiful

Amidst the challenges of chemotherapy-induced hair loss, some cancer patients find confidence in chic wigs, embracing beauty beyond baldness

CNA – Hair is a crucial part of a woman’s identity, impacting both her appearance and confidence. When cancer strikes and the possibility of chemotherapy-induced hair loss arises, it intensifies the emotional burden.

The prospect of losing one’s hair amplifies the challenges of battling with the big C making the experience even more daunting and relatable for countless women.

When my late sister Sally underwent chemotherapy for colorectal cancer in 2003, she, like many patients, started losing her hair. She was in her mid-thirties then, fashion-conscious and always immaculately groomed.

One of the things that comforted her and “normalised” her cancer recovery journey, was to continue to look good. And this included getting a wig.

PHOTO: ENVATO

Sally’s chic wig looked exactly like her own chin-length feathered bob. It was made of real hair and after she bought it, she wore it to her hairdresser who gave her the same wispy layers she had worn for years.

Looking like herself again helped Sally, and everyone else around her, in intangible ways. It didn’t make us forget that she was fighting cancer; instead, it reminded us that despite fighting cancer, Sally could, and would, defiantly look good in her stylish bob.

“Other than our face and dressing, I think our hair matters most as part of our aesthetics – even to someone like me who doesn’t fuss too much with my hair,” observed breast cancer survivor Gemma Foo, 46.

The mum of two teenagers said her hair is an important part of who she is. “For women, our hair is part of our identity. My hairstyles represent the different phases in my life and having a different look – long, bleached, permed, a crew cut, a bob – is like a confidence booster.”

Shaving it off before it falls out

For practical and aesthetic reasons, many cancer patients shave their heads in order not to have to deal with the impending hair loss during chemotherapy.

“I knew hair loss would be inevitable as my treatment was quite aggressive. So, I might as well be decisive and shave it all off,” said Foo.

Breast cancer survivor Gemma Foo (right) wore her chin-length wig at her cousin’s wedding in 2018 after losing her hair to chemotherapy. PHOTO: CNA SOURCE

 She bought a chin-length wig made of real hair for SGD1,000. “Like my own hairstyle, it was hassle-free and easy to maintain.”

“I wasn’t really affected by the hair loss personally but I didn’t want to attract unnecessary attention,” she added. “Wearing a wig allowed me to still enjoy those moments of being out with my family and friends.”  

She said that while many patients – mostly women – at her oncologist’s clinic wore wigs, there were a number who also donned head scarves, hats, caps and beanies.

“A friend who was diagnosed with lymphoma wore a head scarf because she found it easier; she didn’t see the need to get a wig,” Foo said.

There are online shopping platforms where you can buy headgear for under SGD10. Build up a collection to complement your wardrobe, Foo suggested.  

PHOTO: ENVATO

“For many cancer patients, the wig is not just a cosmetic thing. It also buys us time to recalibrate our thoughts and emotions, and our views of how we want to lead our lives. It took me a while to feel confident enough to go without it.

“I knew people would ask me questions about my cancer and by then, I was mentally prepared and could readily share about my recovery journey. Once you hit that stage, you don’t look back.”

To wig or not to wig is a question only a cancer patient can answer for herself (or himself). “Whatever makes you feel most comfortable to help you fight your cancer battle.

Fighting cancer is not just about the medication – the mental battle is important too… If getting a wig is not your focus, then go without it,” she said. – Stella Thng

PHOTO: ENVATO
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