Recognizing Myself Again After Chemo

As a young woman, much of my femininity has been tied to my hair and the ways I can express myself through my physical appearance. But when I was diagnosed with HER2 positive, stage 3 breast cancer, I no longer was using wigs just for fashion and self-expression, but instead relying on them to feel confident and more like myself.

Thanks to chemotherapy, like many in this community know all to well, I lost my hair, and my physical identity totally changed. I experienced first-hand the impact that hair loss can have on self-esteem. As my hair started to fall out, strand by strand, my image shifted from youthful to sick. I looked sick, I felt worse because of it and I was embarrassed for anyone to see me as a “sick cancer patient.” People in public would stare or smile at me as they passed because they either knew or felt sorry that I was sick. When I saw my reflection in a mirror, I couldn’t even recognize myself anymore. All I could see was cancer and chemotherapy.

As a little girl I would admire my mother as she applied her lipstick and said, “If you look good, you feel good.” I don’t like to admit it, but moms are always right.  One of the only things you do have control over while dealing with cancer is acknowledging how you feel and finding what you can do to make yourself feel better. For me, that was wearing wigs and getting myself dressed up for my days. When I would put on a wig, I felt so much more like myself, like a sense of normalcy was restored during a time that felt like anything but “normal.”

Before I was diagnosed, I coincidentally was running a wig business, and my personal experience with hair loss gave me a whole new meaning, purpose and approach. I know first-hand how something like a wig can have a positive impact on the mental health and outlook of those with cancer and other health issues resulting in hair loss. It is a really emotional journey women go through when it comes to these changes to our physical appearances. It’s not “just hair.” For a lot of us, it’s who we are, a part of our identity.

I recently just finished treatment, so I am still growing out my hair and waiting for my breast reconstruction. Right now, I rely on my wigs every day to feel more like myself before diagnosis and less like a cancer patient. I want to feel beautiful, so I make sure that every morning I wake up, put on my favourite outfit and wig to conquer my day. Now when I look in the mirror, I’m starting to recognize myself again — and it feels good. 

On my day of diagnosis, I was told by a cancer survivor that everything is going to be okay. That there will be tough days, but I will get through this. It was in that moment that I chose to be a survivor. And now I want to share with you that with hope, faith and clarity, we can all move mountains.  — Ella Fior

Read more from those dealing with treatment side effects here!

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