Ask Amy: Cancer Treatment Brings Odd Requests

By Amy Dickinson | February 3rd, 2021

Does she owe it to her friends and acquaintances to let them see her bald?

Senior woman receiving cancer treatment

Dear Amy: I’m currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer. People have had some very odd reactions to the baldness caused by my chemotherapy.

I’m not asking for advice on how to handle it, but I am seeking an explanation.

I find it very strange that several friends have asked to see me bald.

Those who see me in person ask me to take off my hat.

Others (who are not in person) ask me to send them a picture.

My very quick response to them is, “Absolutely not!”

They react with stunned confusion: “Why not?”

Amy, do I really need to explain that?

I tell them I have a difficult time looking at myself at the moment; I don’t want them with that image or actual photo.

Frankly, I don’t think anyone losing hair to chemo should ever be ashamed of how it looks. I have no issues at all with those that chose to show it. I admire them. But the fact is, everyone handles it differently.

I am very private. I don’t want any public disclosures about my illness and treatment.

The thing that surprises me most is that the request comes from my closest friends who know how private I am.

I’m hoping you can shed some light on this odd human behavior.

— Confused

Dear Confused: I agree with how you are handling these reactions and requests.

You might find out more by asking people why they are interested in seeing your bald head. They might admit to being curious – but I genuinely believe that there is more to it.

We’ve all seen magazine articles or depictions on movies or TV where women reveal their dramatic chemo-related hair loss.

This is always seen as a heartbreaking but ultimately triumphant moment where a woman vows to “beat this thing,” and her friends rally around her. Some friends and family members will even shave their own heads in solidarity.

My instinct is that on a deep level people are trying to basically force you into what they believe will be a dramatic “reveal,” – in order to respond by comforting you. Their intentions are to reassure you that you look great, or tell you that your hair will grow back quickly, or that it will grow back curly (the way their sister-in-law’s did).

In doing so, they will make themselves feel better about what you are going through – and they will make your cancer treatment just a little bit about them.

My theory is that this is the moment your friends are trying to provoke. They are willing to make you uncomfortable in order to try to comfort you.

You have the right – and the responsibility – to handle this phase of your treatment however you want to. That includes refusing to be shoehorned into somebody else’s storyline.

Want to get even more life tips from Amy? Read more of her advice columns here!

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2021 by Amy Dickinson

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