Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work
APRIL 12, 2017
It was probably thirty years ago when I first heard of supportive head shaving. A patient had just lost her hair due to chemotherapy, and her 16 year old son shaved his head in support. A few days later, all of his friends did the same. She was very pleased, and felt loved and supported.
Since then, we have heard lots of similar stories, and I have witnessed a number of different reactions from patients. Some people indeed appreciate the gesture, and some don't--for a range of reasons. Probably the best bottom line is that friends or family should ask about it before heading to the barber shop. And celebrities and politicians might think carefully before doing the public shave for charity.
From Heather Millar in the New York Times:
Before You Shave Your Head to Show Support...
By Heather Millar
I have a buddy whose teenage son is planning to shave his head. He has a good friend who was just diagnosed with lymphoma, and he wants to do something to show his friend that he really cares. He wants to somehow share his friend’s suffering.
I’ve heard lots of other stories of people shaving their heads to show solidarity with a friend or loved one struck by cancer. First off, let me say that I think this type of action comes of nothing but good intentions. I admire people who are willing to do such things for the people they love. It’s great when a cancer patient has people around them who are willing to go the extra mile.
But before you start shaving, I think it’s important to ask the cancer patient how they feel about such things. Will having a friend who’s also bald make him feel better? Or will he feel guilty that his friend
shaved his head? Will he think it’s a way of poking cancer in the eye, or will he be embarrassed?
Also, I wonder if these gestures, though well-intentioned, run the risk of inadvertently minimizing the real experience of cancer.
Like, in my friend’s son’s case: Even if he shaves his head, he will not experience the bone-crushing nausea and fatigue caused by chemo. He will not sit out from gym class because he’s afraid that his chemo port might get knocked or damaged. My friend’s son is not faced with the terrifying reality of having cancer.
Cancer is so, so much more than just losing your hair.