A woman with a shaved head smiles, surrounded by flowers.

Why I Refused to Wear Wigs

When I was diagnosed in August 2016, I knew that I was in for a battle. I had my radical cystectomy on September 23, 2016. Due to complications, I bounced back and forth from the hospital to a rehab facility for 2 months. Between the anesthesia and all of the medications I had endured during that time, I was already losing a substantial amount of hair. Every time I brushed my hair, the brush was full of hair.

Meeting with my medical oncologist

When I first met with my medical oncologist in the office to discuss the remainder of my treatment plan it was the week after Thanksgiving. I would be receiving one of the strongest chemo cocktails they're allowed to give (MVAC). I would most definitely be losing my hair. I suspected that I would. He only confirmed my suspicions.

I didn't associate my hair with my femininity

My mother is a dog groomer. Growing up, she always told me, "Do whatever you want with your hair. Long or short, it's just hair, and it grows back."  Since I grew up with this mindset, losing my hair was not exactly devastating to me. I mean, I wasn't thrilled about it, but it wasn't the end of the world either. I never associated my femininity with my hair and have always changed my hairstyles frequently. I had long and short hair, changing colors and styles.

Deciding to take control

After some thought, I decided that a lot was going on in my life that I could not control, but I could control how I respond to what was happening. I called my cousin, who is also my hairstylist, and told her we needed to shave my head. After some discussion, we decided to make a thing out of it. She opened her salon on a day that she was normally closed. I invited some friends and family to come.

Creating a wonderful memory

On the day of the event, my cousin gave me a mohawk. She spiked it up with product. Then my friends were allowed to take part by shaving the mohawk off. We laughed, took pictures, ordered food, and hung out. It turned a challenging situation into a wonderful memory.

4 photos showing the different stages of Liz's hair being shaved off from long to mohawk to a bald head.

After I shaved my head and shocked my oncologist, I had many offers from people in my life to pay for or make wigs for me. I declined them all. The 2 major reasons were hot flashes and my desire to bring awareness to bladder cancer.

Hot flashes

My hot flashes started right around the time that I started chemo. My chemo cocktail exacerbated the hot flash symptoms. There is no way to predict a hot flash. I could not even imagine having a hot wig on my head while dealing with hot flashes that left me soaking wet in sweat as if I had just gotten out of the shower.

Raising awareness for bladder cancer

Second, after at least 2 years of fighting to get a diagnosis and having my symptoms ignored by medical professionals, I needed to share my story from start to finish. After all, I was a young adult who did not fit the "bladder cancer mold," had virtually no risk factors, and had never heard of bladder cancer until I received my diagnosis. Being young, bald, and sickly pale has its advantages...it is a conversation starter.

Documenting every step

I rocked my cue ball from start to finish, even celebrated when the peach fuzz started coming in after treatment. I shared the milestone of being able to wear a barrette for the first time post-treatment. I documented it all. I even returned to work completely bald and using a walker.

Liz's hair growing back into "peach fuzz"

My way of handling my hair loss

I handled my hair loss in a way that is not exactly the norm. Being vocal about everything I've experienced with bladder cancer is not for everyone. I strongly felt that I needed to do. I did my best to turn lemons into lemonade.

Taking control of how I reacted to everything really gave me a sense of empowerment. It released some of the stress and anxiety brought on by the diagnosis. Doing this allowed me to not only make positive memories and strengthen connections with loved ones, but it gave me the strength and willpower to overcome bladder cancer.

I'm grateful that I handled things the way I did. After all, it is just hair, and it did grow back.

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