How can I comfort my mother when she feels distressed about losing her hair?

6 answers | Last updated: Dec 06, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother is losing her hair after chemotherapy for lung cancer, and she's very distressed about it. I think she still looks great, but when I try to reassure her, she just gets more upset -- even angry. What can I say or do to make her feel better?


Expert Answers

Jeffrey Knajdl is director of psycho-oncology services in the Cancer Counseling program at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.

Sometimes it's not what you say to your mother, but what you let her say. She's going through something really major, and she's sad, worried, and upset. It's hard for you to see her distressed, so naturally you try to make her feel better. But you're stuck, because when you say "You look great" or "It's all going to be okay," she feels like you don't understand how hard this is for her. When you're trying to be supportive, it can feel to her like you're demanding a positive attitude from her, which is frustrating. Think about how you feel when someone says "cheer up" when you feel down -- nothing's more irritating!

Just try listening to her. Tell her you really want to hear and understand how she's feeling. Let her know she can say anything she needs to without feeling shut down.

Hair loss is a much more emotional issue than anyone realizes. Both the patient and the caregiver are always caught off guard by how upsetting it is. When she gets angry, try hearing her cries of anger as cries of fear. It can be really frightening for cancer patients when they feel out of control over what's happening to their bodies. And she's afraid of letting you down, too, by not being brave or stoic enough. Tell her that whatever she's thinking or feeling, it's okay, and that she doesn't need to put on a brave face for you. One of cancer patients' biggest fears is that they'll have to go through this experience alone, so make sure she knows that you'll be there every step of the way.


Community Answers

Dee getz answered...

When I started to loose my hair I had my daughter shave my head and my husbands. The Cancer Center I went to provides a session called "Look good, feel better". They provide a program about once a month, free and instructions on how to wear scarfs, wigs and caring for them, applying make up which they provide free ($300 value). Just because we are sick, we don't have to look what we think is bad. Bald is beautiful too. This is a wonderful program; they do much more then I can say here. Dee


Mich4567 answered...

My Mom who is 80 lost all of her hair due to cancer. Since the end of July, she is still cancer free. She had Squamous Cell Base of the Tongue Cancer. (Viral) She began losing her hair about 5 weeks after chemo and then worse after she started radiation treatments. I took her to a hairdresser and bought a beautiful wig for her. They cut her hair to about 1/2 inch long at that time. She was already starting to wear the cute little scarfs on her head. She never did, once, wear the wig. She preferred her cute little scarfs. I thought she would have a harder time losing her hair, but she was really brave. She was a redhead (of course I would put color on her hair to cover the gray), but now her hair is about 1 1/2 inches long and natural gray. She has not worn a scarf for two months now and she gets compliments everywhere we go on her cute hairstyle.
I kept telling my Mom that hair is not important and you have options to cover up the bare head. She had many different colored scarfs and she felt actually fashionable during this hard time.
The Cancer Society has a wonderful catalog of all style chemo hats, etc. You can go online and order one for your Mom. Tell her that this will only be temporary and keep letting her know how beautiful her face looks.....even without hair.


Lynnabita answered...

I too had this problem last year and early this year. No one can make you feel better. So I chose levity - I had a cap embroired "Bad Hair Day", and wore it with a bandana underneath, when I wasn't wearing the wig (really a "hair hat") and big earrings, and lots of eye makeup. Another friend of mine had "chemo hair" sequined on a cap. Hang in there !!!


Jade1961 answered...

Hi, I understand you desire to help your Mom deal with the issue of hair loss. I am a Team Leader for the Erie County Cancer Killers a LIVESTRONG Army & part of The Lance Armstrong Foundation.

There are a ton of good ideas already on this board.

I am hoping that, as a survivor, I can lend some help to both you and your Mom. The first thingy you have to understand is this is your Mom's LIFE and she has the right to be Angry, Frustrated, Sorrowful and all of the other emotions that come with cancer. You will have these feelings too and all too often we, as the onlooker attempt to make things "all better". All we can do as the person offering support is to be there to listen. The Manifesto for The Lance Armstrong Foundation says it best so I am going to put it here for you to read.

"The Manifesto of the Lance Armstrong Foundation We believe in life. Your life. We believe in living every minute of it with every ounce of your being. And that you must not let cancer take control of it. We believe in energy: channeled and fierce. We believe in focus: getting smart and living strong. Unity is strength. Knowledge is power. Attitude is everything. This is the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

We kick in the moment you’re diagnosed. We help you accept the tears. Acknowledge the rage. We believe in your right to live without pain. We believe in information. Not pity. And in straight, open talk about cancer. With husbands, wives and partners. With kids, friends and neighbors. And the people you live with, work with, cry and laugh with. This is no time to pull punches. You’re in the fight of your life. We’re about the hard stuff. Like finding the nerve to ask for a second opinion. And a third, or a fourth, if that’s what it takes. We’re about getting smart about clinical trials. And if it comes to it, being in control of how your life ends. It’s your life. You will have it your way.

We’re about the practical stuff. Planning for surviving. Banking your sperm. Preserving your fertility. Organizing your finances. Dealing with hospitals, specialists, insurance companies and employers. It’s knowing your rights. It’s your life. Take no prisoners.

We’re about the fight. We’re your champion on Capitol Hill. Your advocate with the healthcare system. Your sponsor in the research labs. And we know the fight never ends. Cancer may leave your body, but it never leaves your life. This is the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Founded and inspired by one of the toughest cancer survivors on the planet. LIVESTRONG™"

I realize that there is so very much both your Mom and yourself are going through right now. I recommend that you contact livestrong.org or you can e-mail me with the Subject CANCER HELP! and I will get in touch with you immediately. My e-mail is jadetopp@gmail.com I know I am opening myself up to a ton of spam from the trolls that come on these boards. But, I don't care. I am here to help you and I have an Army behind me that is 100Million strong working to help the 28Million people Globally that are living with cancer. So, please e-mail me or go to the website. It is filled with helpful information as well as a phone number you can call to get one on one support. I wish you the best & will pray for your Mom & you of course. LIVESTRONG! Jade


Moi49moi answered...

Ovation cell therapy, that will help bring your mom's hair back. It's a little costly, but you don't have to buy all 3 products, you can buy just the therapy. I had colon cancer, and my chemo treatment caused me to lose my hair,not completely. I started using it after my chemo treatments and my hair grew back fast and very soft and silky. I did not that I could have used it during chemo, but I'm told by my chemo nurses that yes, you can use it during treatment. Have your mom try it.