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Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

What I Learned from Being Bald

by Stephanie Madsen

Inspiration image

My long, blonde hair used to be a prized possession of mine. Having been a hairstylist for many years, I’d spend hours upon hours styling my luxuriant locks. I wore my hair up, down, and every way in between. I took pride in my frequently complimented tresses.

That all changed shortly after my 25th birthday, when cancer barged into my life. It was then, as I faced the loss of my cherished hair, that I realized it had become my security blanket. For as long as I could remember, my hair had been a major part of my identity.

I will never forget the moment my locks began to fall out. It started exactly two weeks after my first chemotherapy treatment. Like a shaggy dog, I was shedding everywhere. I found hair on my pillow, in my clothes, all around my house and my car. I even found hair hiding in my socks.

Each glance at myself in the mirror was a reminder of my diagnosis – stage III large-cell neuroendocrine cervical cancer. As if the diagnosis of a rare and aggressive type of cancer wasn’t enough, losing my hair was the icing on the cake. Not only did I have to endure the exhaustion and nausea from treatment, but I also had to do it bald.

Long hair is beautiful, and a bald head is equally so.
Our hair does not define us.

I remember the embarrassment I felt after the last of my locks was shaved off and I ventured into public with no wig or hat to cover my head. Stares came from every direction. I felt pity, sadness, and confusion surrounding me. I wanted to snap my fingers and be home in my bed, away from the unwanted attention. I stuck out like a sore thumb, and for once in my life, I missed blend­ing in with the crowd.

Cancer changes everything. Dreams, goals, and plans are put on hold, ad­justed, transformed. My life changed forever when I was told I had cancer. However, nearly three years out after battling this disease four separate times, I have learned to embrace the changes. I am not who I was before my diagnosis. And, dare I say, I’m thankful for that.

Prior to my cancer battle, the way I viewed myself was skewed by our so­ciety’s standards of beauty. I thought I had to have a specific body type, a cer­tain style of hair, and a trendy set of clothes to be beautiful. I thought I needed to conform to the beauty standards pro­moted in movies, television, and fashion magazines. Cancer was my rude awaken­ing. This disease stripped my previously conceived notions of beauty and molded for me a new definition of what it means to be beautiful.

Now I understand that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, not in the hair on her head.

Beauty is strength, determination, and passion. Beauty is hope and faith in something bigger than we are. Beauty comes in every form, shape, and color. Long hair is beautiful, and a bald head is equally so. Our hair does not define us.

Knowing it wouldn’t last forever, I learned to embrace my baldness as a reminder of just how strong I really am. No longer would I look into the mirror and see my diagnosis. Instead, I would see a strong, courageous young woman who is surviving beautifully. Like me, you have a choice to make on how to view yourself without hair. You can be a victim or a survivor. You can wither into the crowd and hide, or you can stand with your shoulders back and a smile on your face.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

A four-time rare cancer survivor by age 27, Stephanie Madsen is a writer and motiva­tional speaker based in Denver, CO. Her blog, Derailing My Diagnosis, is a candid account of her experiences: highs, lows, fears, accomplishments, raw emotions, faith, hope, and ultimately, triumph. Follow her journey at DerailingMyDiagnosis.com.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2015.