A dear friend has recently finished chemotherapy treatment. She is now healthy, but the ravages of the drugs has caused her hair to fall out. This is not an uncommon side effect of chemotherapy drugs. I suppose everybody knows somebody who has gone through treatment, so it should not be such a shock when seeing a survivor in public, donning a smooth head. More than the stares, I think it is the looks of pity that distress her the most.
Comfortable within her skin and not ashamed of her diagnosis or treatment, my friend often chooses not to wear a wig. She has a wig, of course, but she contends that it is uncomfortable and itchy, especially in the summer heat. Many times she opts for a hat when going out. In order to make her children feel involved and helpful, she allows them to choose the hat for the day. They each take this responsibility very seriously.
The other evening, my friend was taking her daughter to her kindergarten orientation. This is an event which has been on the calendar for several months, and has been as anticipated as Christmas. The entire family was excited. Because of the special event, my friend allowed her daughter to choose the hat. To nobody's surprise, a purple and pink plaid hat was chosen by the little girl.
Shortly before the orientation started, my friend phoned me. It was difficult to understand her because she was sobbing. I was able to gather that she and her husband had an argument. After calming her down, I was able to ascertain the details.
Despite the discomfort of the wig, her husband felt that it needed to be worn for this special event. He remarked that he didn't want his daughter to have the only "bald Mom" and was worried that it would be fodder for ridicule. He felt that sometimes social decorum dictates the need for a wig, and that there was no need to draw unnecessary attention to the family or to her illness.
To say that she was devastated would be an understatement. In her fragile state, she interpreted his remarks to imply shame he felt about her condition. Simply put, she felt that he was calling her ugly because she was bald.
Although I completely disagree with her husband's approach and lack of tact, I was able to see the logic behind his statement. I listened to her cry, and reassured her of her beauty, both internal and external. When her humor returned and her tears dried, I attempted to explain her husband's position through my own experiences.
I do not wear a cosmetic cover on my leg. I often wear shorts and skirts, not out of ploy to draw attention to myself, but out of my own comfort and fashion desires. I don't feel the need to hide my prosthetic. I am not ashamed, and I am comfortable being an amputee. However, I am aware that my prosthetic does draw attention, stares and often judgments and comments from others.
Although I don't feel the need to disguise or to hide my prosthetic, there are circumstances when I do not want to draw any attention to myself. This is not out of shame, but out of respect for the situation or for others. During these times, I will wear pants or a cover.
Robby has been enrolled in several preschool classes. I have worn pants to all of these classes. Not because I wanted to hide, but because I didn't want my prosthetic to be the first impression at a class that was meant to focus on my child. I wanted the children and their parents to remember Robby, not the amputee Mommy who was with him. My wearing pants has been a deliberate choice so that my son does not "stick out" among his peers.
I have no doubt that my friend's husband was trying to relay this view, but being rather tactless, he was not able to convey this point without hurting her fragile feelings. He definitely needs to work on his approach, and hopefully she will become less sensitive.
I received a phone call later that night. My friend wore her wig, and her little girl has already found a best friend. In time, after people get to know the child and my friend, her physical struggles will become apparent to others. In the meantime, the orientation was about the child, and I am glad that she was able to fit in and is excited about school.