Receiving a standing ovation after sharing her story, Madelene Lewis, M.D. got hugs from many attending the Linda Floyd Forum on Women’s Cancers.
It’s cancer,” the doctor said. A whirlwind ensued, and within the next two weeks, I was notified by oncology that my aggressive form of breast cancer would be best treated with chemotherapy. I was anxious about what would happen to my body. “Chemo” was something I needed, but at what cost? As I read through the list of potential side effects, one stuck out in particular, alopecia, which meant I would likely lose my hair. Luckily, it ended up proving better than the dreaded scenarios playing out in my head.
After week five of my weekly treatments, the hair loss began. My long, thick mane of blonde hair started to fall out. At first, it was a small amount in my hairbrush. Then it was covering the shower drain. Within two weeks, handfuls of hair were coming out daily. Looking in the mirror was a constant reminder that my hair was visibly thinning and my scalp was slowly becoming more visible.
Initially, I was able to keep my cancer diagnosis to my closest friends and family; however, after losing my hair, I knew my diagnosis could no longer be concealed. Many people told me “It’s just hair, and it will grow back” and “you got this,” both true, but neither made losing a part of me any easier. As I contemplated how to handle this portion of my journey, I made a conscious decision to turn this into a positive transformation.
So, I decided to take my hair loss into my own hands and celebrate the fact the chemotherapy was working. What better way to celebrate than hosting a head shaving party! While this type of celebration isn’t for everyone, it certainly helped me cope with one of my early struggles and turned it into a favorable memory. I still look back on my head shaving party with the happiest of memories. In a tumultuous time, I finally felt in control. When asked what we did to make this event a success, my husband and I came up with some of our tips and considerations for hosting your own head shaving party.
Picking the date is tricky as everyone loses hair at a different rate and at a different time in their treatments. Therefore, it can be difficult to figure out when is the right time to take the plunge. I had significant thinning, so I ended up choosing a date around the time when my hair loss was getting unmanageable. We sent out invites to attendees a week in advance, and to our delight, we had great response.
Somewhere comfortable! Pick a barber shop or hair salon if possible. We opted to have the event somewhere other than our house for several reasons. First, there is extra stress (in an already stressful time) prepping the house for guests, not to mention the clean up afterward. Head shaving can be messy (especially for large groups). We also didn’t want our guests to feel pressure to bring supplies (food, gifts, shavers, etc.) or feel intrusive. We privately asked the owner of our boys’ barber shop, and she graciously offered to host. As we approached the actual event date, we firmed up a guest list, and that allowed them to prep as well. LowCountry Barbershop graciously opened their doors to us on a Sunday morning, and three of their best ladies volunteered to come in on their days off to participate in our event.
Keep it simple and easy. We assigned one person for decor and one for nourishment. Since we had a morning shave, we opted for pink donuts, hot coffee, orange juice and some champagne (as it was a celebration!). We had breast cancer awareness treats for our guests as well. Wrist bands, necklaces and knee-high socks were a hit with the kids. Pins and pink hair extensions were favorites with the ladies not joining the group getting shorn.
We encouraged anyone else who wanted to get their head shaved to sign up. I had no choice in losing my hair; however, I was absolutely blown away by the number of family and friends who willingly chose to shave their heads with me. I decided to go first and kick it off. As a mother, it was empowering to have my boys watch me shave part of my own head. It wasn’t a shock to them and gave us all a sense of control. My husband and three boys followed. All had close friends who came and shaved to support them as well. Finally, our last surprise for the group was a charitable donation in honor of each of the 20 heads shaved that day.
This was a momentous day! Mine was full of laughter and love. A wonderful friend took photographs of the event for us. We often look back at these photos with fond memories. Writing about your experience also allows you to relive the thoughts and emotions of the event weeks, months and even years later.
Consider how you want to embrace your baldness. It is helpful to think about what you want and have everything ready for after the shave.
Some love a wig. You can get all colors, shapes and sizes. If you plan ahead, you can even use your own hair. As it was summertime in Charleston, I opted not to get a wig and instead stocked up on an awesome collection of scarves, hats and statement earrings. Keep an open mind and try new things. My sisters scoured the Internet and their local shops, finding me some head covers I initially would have never chosen, but many quickly became my favorites. Indoors and at nighttime, I remember being very cold, so I certainly recommend a soft, warm fuzzy cotton hat as well.
To be honest, initially I wondered if I was making the correct decision. I thought about canceling, having my husband turn the car around and just letting my hair keep falling out slowly over agonizing weeks. I was nervous how I would feel with people watching me undergo something very personal. Once I arrived at the head shaving event and saw my friends and family, I was uplifted by all their love and support. By embracing my baldness, I actually became more comfortable and confident than I had ever suspected I could be. It was amazing to have so many others be a part of this celebration, and I’m appreciative of their love and kindness.
See more great moments from Dr. Madelene Lewis' head shaving party in our photo gallery.Gallery