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Other ways to help a cancer patient cope with hair loss

Cancer Hair Loss: Page 2

By , Caring.com senior editor
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Reassure her that vanity isn't the cause of being sad about losing hair. You'd be surprised how many cancer patients cry when they look at themselves in the mirror -- yet feel guilty for being so upset about something they dismiss as vanity. "She may feel embarrassed about having such strong feelings because it can seem vain, and she knows that family members think she should be focusing on recovery," Beemiller says. But if she's ready to deal with it, you can also encourage her to take positive steps. Bring home hat catalogs, order a few, and have fun trying them on.

But be ready for the vanity issue to come up when she's choosing wigs, hairpieces, hats, and makeup. She might say things like "Oh, it doesn't matter," when of course it really does. It can be difficult for a patient to admit the importance of getting just the right wig or buying paste-on eyebrows, because it seems vain or trivial in the face of everything else that's happening. Offer reassurance that it's okay to be concerned about appearance; you may even have to jokingly agree to banish the words "vain" and "vanity" from your mutual vocabulary. Encourage your friend or relative to focus on her looks as much as she feels like it. Say things like, "I want you to feel comfortable and confident, so take all the time you need."

Cultivate patience; what's one more trip to the wig shop if it lifts her mood? Cheer her on when she tries something new. Remember how you felt the first time you had your own hair cut short? Stepping out in a turban or new eyebrows is a similar risk for someone who's lost her hair. Pay lots of compliments: Let her know that her new turban makes you think of Lana Turner.

Help her find someone who's sharing this experience. When it comes to hair loss, no one understands like another cancer patient. Finding someone else who's going through it can be incredibly helpful and important, says Beemiller. If the patient is willing to join a cancer support group, this is a great way to meet other people dealing with hair loss. If not, perhaps your hospital or cancer center could refer her to a fellow patient to talk to. "If she can find someone to talk to who's going through it or has been through it, she won't feel alone, and she can get ideas and suggestions," Beemiller says. "I've seen cancer patients really bond by poring over wig catalogs and hat catalogs, laughing and crying."

Discourage the patient from relying on hair loss prevention strategies. Many patients read or hear about medications or other therapies for preventing hair loss. The most popular preventive strategy is wearing an "ice cap" during chemotherapy, which is supposed to prevent hair loss. Unfortunately, it doesn't work, says Terry Anders, RN, clinical educator at the Zangmeister Center. "There's no proof that it does anything other than give the patient a bad headache."

Another therapy patients ask about is using Rogaine, the popular balding preventative. However, if your friend or relative's chemo regimen is causing hair loss, then no medication is going to be effective, says Anders. Nor should she mix other medications with the chemo regimen anyway. More important, focusing on hair loss prevention therapies keeps the person from accepting the hair loss and taking steps to prepare for it. "It's a really emotional issue, so people want to prevent it from happening," Anders says, "but over time, most patients do lose their hair. It helps if you can get her to refocus her energy on recovering from the cancer."