It’s not because I’m precious about my hair. Far from it. Growing up in the 1980s with a hairdresser Mum, I have had every style and colour you could imagine. Some were atrocious, but I always had it in my head that a bad haircut/colour only lasts 6 weeks. Nevertheless, my hair is important to me and with all the kids back to school today my first priority is to get my roots done.
When we explained to Felix that his hair would fall out he didn’t really say much. At the tender age of 10, how he looked and what he wore was starting to become important to him, particularly his hair. He had started to gel it up and would spend quite a long time styling it and making sure it looked just so. Along with this came the head swoosh which naturally flicked his long hair at the front to the side and the constant running of his hand through his hair to make sure it was as it should please. His preoccupation with his hair soon became a source of entertainment for us and particularly his football coach who ribbed him endlessly about his hair obsession. He couldn’t imagine not having his hair. He couldn’t imagine being bald.
When his hair did fall out it didn’t fall out all in one go. It came out gradually leaving a long, fine covering which looked like he was full of static. Every morning he would get up and leave a fine covering of hair on his pillow. When we were eating, we would discretely and sadly notice his hair falling on to the table. I would watch him glance at himself in the mirror – he couldn’t look at himself for any length of time. It was heartbreaking.
There were many times when we tried to persuade him to shave it all off. He wouldn’t. To him, his hair was one of the few things he still had an element of control over. To him, it was the last bit of his old self still hanging in there. To him, it was his last bit of dignity.
As a way of trying to ease the emotional hurt of losing his hair, I offered to shave mine off in support of what he was going through. He point blank refused. He said, “Why would anyone choose to look like this? I would do anything to not look like this. I don’t want you to feel like I do”.
He then brought up the Brave the Shave Campaign and used the same argument. I could see what he was saying. Why was this charity using the image, which for Felix symbolised everything he hated about having cancer, to raise money? Why did this charity not consider that the loss of hair is due to his little body being ravaged by toxic chemicals? For Felix, this campaign is the most insensitive one of all as it encourages people to emulate children and adults with cancer with complete disregard for the physical and emotional pain attached to their baldness. In fact, it is promoted in almost a celebratory and enjoyable way. It’s wrong.
There is a chance that all of Felix’s hair could fall out again. It does happen. In fact, it happened to a boy around the same as Felix only a couple of days ago. This boy is starting school today, far more nervous than his peers because of the way he looks. He would probably do anything to have his hair, yet this side effect of treatment is being used as a marketing tool.
I don’t know if adults who have lost their hair through treatment or alopecia look at the campaign with the same perspective as Felix. I would love to hear.
I don’t know if Macmillan considered the thoughts and feelings of children and adults with cancer when they launched this campaign. I would love to hear.
I don’t know if any of us can contemplate how it must feel to lose your hair unless you’ve been through it yourself.
What I do know is that we should respect it. I can’t think of any other side effect which would be used such a crass and insensitive way.
This is why I will not Brave the Shave.