Coping With Emotions

Should You Shave Your Head for Cancer Solidarity? Cancer Survivors Weigh In

People living with cancer have a wide range of feelings about the gesture of voluntarily shaving your head for cancer support. Find out where your decision may fall.

Have you ever thought you might shave your head for cancer support in solidarity with a friend going through treatment? It’s an intriguing idea, but it’s also important not to make assumptions on how it could affect a person living with cancer. As a cancer survivor, I’ve given this practice some thought, and I discussed this topic with a group of cancer survivors and their loved ones. As it turns out, we don’t all agree on this topic.

It Can Be Supportive

One breast cancer survivor had a wonderful experience when her loved ones threw a party where they shaved their heads together. “It was so fun, and it made it so much easier to be a bald woman surrounded by other beautiful bald women! I still get a little teary thinking about the love and support I felt that night.”

It’s a great gesture to alter your appearance so someone else doesn’t feel alone. It doesn’t just signal support for the cancer patient, but it can also function as a community activity, auctioning off swipes with a razor to benefit cancer research. If you can help your friend feel supported while also working to advance research, that’s a wonderful thing all the way around.

Before Anything, Consider Your Loved One’s Feelings

But one woman whose husband has endured cancer also cautioned that people should ask the cancer patient before they decide to go bald. This sentiment was echoed by some of the other women, suggesting that the most important consideration is the feelings of the very person you’re trying to cheer up. There might be better ways to support a friend with cancer. For the cancer patient, the intent might be good, but the reality can feel quite different.

Appearance is so personal; it’s tied up in identity. It’s also worth considering that maybe the cancer patient doesn’t want constant reminders of their cancer while they’re spending time with their friends. “I wore a wig so I wouldn’t have to feel like a cancer patient every time I looked in the mirror,” another breast cancer survivor explained. “If someone did that for me, I’d be reminded of the cancer every time I looked at them.”

Many cancer survivors have had experiences where healthy people use their diagnosis to draw attention to themselves, either looking for pity or for admiration for being such a great friend to someone with cancer. This angle of the conversation heated up, and one breast cancer survivor warned that it can be “a way to make someone else’s experience all about yourself — instead of about the person who has cancer,” to which several responded that they felt that way as well. Another survivor went further, to say that in some cases it could even be “a form of appropriation or martyrdom.” Before you make a decision, make sure to ask for and really listen to the feelings of the cancer patient in your life.

It’s Different for Kids

It seemed that, on the topic of supporting kids, everyone was in agreement. It’s still worth asking them how they would feel about the head-shaving gesture, but among my friends with cancer, the idea of shaving your head to support a child with cancer was overwhelmingly positive. Kids with cancer need as much encouragement as they can get. Childhood is confusing enough, and it’s hard to look different, especially if it’s not your choice.

If you want to support someone, his or her feelings are the most important consideration. If he or she thinks it would be fun or encouraging for you to shave your head for cancer, that’s all the license you need.

Ramona's Room provides wigs and scarves at no cost to those who are uninsured or underinsured. This service can be accessed from Flourish Boutique in the Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center.

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Judy Schwartz Haley
Judy Schwartz Haley