How losing my hair to chemo made me feel about personal style

Olivia Silver is a writer and a PR professional. She also has breast cancer. Last May, she was diagnosed with the disease, and soon after, she started writing about it. In this column, Olivia examines the everyday aspects of life while being treated for breast cancer as a 30-something. 

When I learned I would lose my hair from chemotherapy, I knew I needed to purchase a wig. Pre-cancer, I used to think of wigs as what celebrities wore onstage or what every day folks wore with their Halloween costumes. However, I quickly learned there is a whole, legitimate wig industry out there. I decided to purchase my wig from someone who could customize it to my head size and then style it to look like my old haircut.

I typically wear my wig to work. That way I avoid pity and questions — two things that get tiresome. But for those who have never worn a wig during summer, let me enlighten you. It is like you are wearing a ski cap outside in the blazing sun. A good wig feels very light and you can practically see through it. But when you wear the wig outside for any length of time, your temperature rises very quickly and your head begins to sweat.

To give myself a break, on the weekends and around my friends and family, I started wearing scarves instead. When I was a little girl I inherited all of these scarves from my grandmother. I didn’t know what to do with them but they were so pretty and translucent; remnants of the ’70s. Every place I moved to I packed those scarves up and took them with me to my next location. I never thought I would have a real chance to use them, but now I wear them regularly.

When I wear my scarves I don’t necessarily blend in. But I don’t care. I like that I stand out for wearing something pretty like a scarf. I also like that it draws attention to the fact that people my age face cancer. I believe that wearing my scarves does so much more to build awareness of this disease than wearing a pink ribbon. It shows that there are people who live among us who are dealing with something as tough as breast cancer.

When people look at me in my scarf, I often remind them of someone they know with cancer. And if they never met anyone with cancer, then it shows them that it’s not just older women who are personally affected by this disease. It can be the young woman buying coffee or eating dinner with her friend at the nearby table. For me, wearing these scarves shows that I am not giving up. I am living life while battling cancer. And it reminds people that this is a disease that can impact anyone’s life and it’s a disease that needs to be stopped.

But that’s not the only reason I wear my scarves. To be honest, right now I feel so ugly. My eyelashes and eyebrows are almost completely gone. The stubble on my head has disappeared and left behind this ghostly white scalp. I’ve gained weight, when I truly thought that with cancer at least I would finally lose those last few pounds that all the exercise and healthy-eating couldn’t shake. (I know that sounds awful, but you’ve got to find some sort of silver lining.) Because of breast cancer, I eat but don’t exercise as much, so consequently I gain weight. People tell me that I should concentrate on my health, and my appearance should be the least of my worries. When I wear my scarves, I feel pretty, unique and fashionable and those negative thoughts quiet in my head. I’m standing out, not because I’m the only person in my group of friends with cancer, but because I made a bold fashion choice.

Both my wig and scarves serve a purpose in my daily life. My wig allows me to avoid the unnecessary questions at work and be treated as a professional rather than a cancer patient. But my scarves allow me to find beauty in such an ugly experience. They allow me to step out of my comfort zone and show the world that just because I battle cancer it doesn’t mean I’m preparing for death. Throughout this journey I try to not give up on my life. I do not want to stop enjoying what makes me happy. There are days when I must hang out on the couch to regain my energy. But there are other days when I go shopping, make dinner plans with friends or spend the day walking around the city with my husband, wearing my scarf. Those days help me get through the bad days. And I am grateful for them.

Read more from Olivia here.

(Image via Shutterstock)