I know many cancer patients elect not to wear a wig. For me there was no alternative. To me a shaved or bald head with or without a headscarf screamed ‘I’m having/have had treatment for cancer’ and I wanted to find a wig as close as possible to my own hair colour and style in an effort to demonstrate the cancer hadn’t changed me.
I chose to visit a wig shop in Leeds where they had staff members who were experienced in advising customers who were facing hair loss as a result of chemo. I took a friend for morale support. I was pleasantly surprised by the array of wigs although options were limited if I wanted something that bore a resemblance to my own hair. We couldn’t help but chuckle at some of the names of the wigs, many of which seemed to have a porn star ring about them – ‘Fantasy’, ‘Infatuation’, ‘Rapture’ and ‘Curve Appeal’ made my choice of ‘Infinity’ sound dull in comparison. The majority of wigs were styled with a fringe which I wasn’t used to so I ended up going for one with a long fringe – almost a similar shade to my highlights only without the roots that featured more often than not. Seeing myself in a wig for the first time was slightly surreal but a relief in that it did not look as horrendous as I feared. I came away having shortlisted a couple of wig styles that the store could obtain quickly if I got to the point where I needed it. When that time came I took my husband to the wig shop with me; he’s not one to hold back on what he thinks so I was slightly weary as to how he would react, but even he was surprised at how genuine the wig looked.
I delayed wearing the wig for a few days. I knew that once I started wearing it there was no going back. The boys were apprehensive about the wig initially but my youngest was soon converted having been allowed to brush it and try it on for himself. Once I’d shaved my own hair the boys weren’t keen on seeing me without my wig. “Mummy, you look like an alien,” my youngest exclaimed. I tried to limit the extent to which they would see me without it but it wasn’t always practical to put it on when responding to a shout for mummy in the middle of the night.
Getting used to wearing a wig was by no means easy. Admittedly throwing on a wig was far easier than having to factor in time to wash, dry and straighten my hair in a morning but it wasn’t me and I automatically assumed everyone would look at me and instantly know I was wearing a wig. Once I’d shaved my hair I was able to use wig tape to keep it in place but in actual fact I didn’t really need it. Comedy moments associated with the wig were thankfully few and far between. There were a few occasions where overenthusiastic hugs caused the wig to slip a little but at least I could immediately sense this and put it right. On particularly windy days I would wear a woolly hat to provide extra security (although I don’t think that did the wig any favours). It was only when my hair had started to regrow that the wig and I parted company when attempting to duck beneath the branches of a tree at Harewood House and by then I was happy to laugh it off.
The first time I encountered people in my wig I felt the need to acknowledge it and make some comment about it. I was lucky to be able to continue doing some exercise whilst having my chemo, at least during the good weeks. Going to the gym or running presented another headwear dilemma. I could hardly do exercise in my wig but I wasn’t up for baring all. I wore a baseball cap in the gym. It didn’t look completely out of place but the fact I’d lost my hair was obvious. People I saw in the gym were absolutely fine with it; however I had an urge to make some jibe about them having caught me with my hair off. Once I’d finished my chemo I went swimming again. That felt fantastic after having had to stay out the pool for five months post-surgery and then due to the risk of infection during chemo. I wore a swimming hat which I’ve concluded no one can carry off. That didn’t stop me from spending longer than necessary pouring over various styles on the internet. I suddenly found I became more conscious of other people in the pool wearing swimming hats; okay the majority were at least 20 years older but not exclusively.
My youngest son soon picked up on the fact I was self-conscious about the wig. He had a phase of threatening to tell his friends or pull it off when having a moment. We had regular chats about it but he knew it was a weak spot he could target when angry. I didn’t mind so much him telling people I wore a wig as I was completely open with friends about it. It was more the questions his friends might ask around why I wore the wig which I didn’t want to have to respond to.
It was about six weeks after my last chemo that my hair started growing back. It didn’t grow back in between cycles like it does for some chemo patients. I’ve suddenly become more conscious of women sporting short hairstyles as I try to envisage how I might wear mine once it has some length. The boys had mixed feelings about my hair starting to regrow. They wanted to see it back to how it was. They commented how I resemble a boy. Small milestones became important like using a shampoo again, having eyelashes long enough to wear mascara and going for a haircut.