When many people think about a cancer diagnosis, the first thing that may come to mind is hair loss. Not surprising since it can be the most visual cue that a person is undergoing cancer treatment.

While not everyone with cancer experiences hair loss, it is one of the most common side effects of certain cancer treatments. Hair loss occurs because many cancer treatments target both cancer cells and normal cells – including cells  that make hair grow.

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Julie Lanahan, UCF Program Coordinator for Outreach & Engagement and a breast cancer survivor, and her daughter, Maggie.

While hair loss is temporary, it can be an emotional transition. For adolescents and young adults, identity formation is a critical developmental task as is developing deep bonds with friends and intimate partners. Hair and other physical attributes compose important aspects of one’s identity. The loss of hair can impact one’s sense of self, identity and overall self-esteem.

As such, adolescents and young adults may react to hair loss by isolating themselves from others, especially peers. This sense of isolation can fuel feelings of emotional distress among adolescents and young adults. For those who are facing a new cancer diagnosis, here are some coping strategies to help deal with hair loss:

  • Allow yourself permission to adjust to the news of hair loss and
    associated emotions that might arise for you some of which might include despair, anxiety, sadness and anger.
  • When confronted what to do with regards to going for the natural bald-look or wearing a wig, hat or scarf, do what feels comfortable to you.
  • Take control and prepare for the process of hair loss as much as is possible (for example, shaving your head rather than waiting for hair to fall out over time may help combat feelings of loss or making sure that there is a hat or scarf that you might like to wear prior to losing all of your hair may help you feel a greater sense of preparedness).
  • Express your feelings associated with hair loss by communicating with friends, family or fellow cancer patients.
  • Some patients find that doing something with your hair, whether that be donating your hair to other cancer patients in need of wigs or by memorializing your hair in some way such as journaling about its significance to you, can be therapeutic.