Moms

Parenting Through Troubling Times, Part 3

McGrath embracing her inner gypsy. Her kids weren’t so sure about the look.
McGrath embracing her inner gypsy. Her kids weren’t so sure about the look.

Being a mom is tough on the best of days. But when crisis hits a mom - from work to grief to health concerns - the stress of managing her own issues can make parenting even tougher. Join this Charlotte mother as she shares her tale of being mom and keeping a positive attitude while facing a personally challenging diagnosis.

Need to catch up? Read Part 1: Telling the kids “the news”

Part 2: Cancer in a box - the benefits of compartmentalizing

Part 3: It’s all about the hair

One day recently, I decided to wear a big scarf around my mostly-bald head. I thought it looked kind of Bohemian--I was embracing my inner gypsy, instead of looking like I was going through chemo. However, my son looked at me and said, "Are you going to wear that in public?" Clearly, he did not have the same impression of my new look as I did.

In the first few weeks, the children and I were focused on what would happen with my hair. The hair loss became symbolic of my health status. If I could keep it, I would not look so sick and no one would have to know what we were going through as a family. Consequently, I put on my fake hair pieces and my makeup--trying to look as "normal" as possible. I couldn’t believe how a little strip of fake hair made them feel better--if Mom looks okay she must be okay! I know my kids were relieved I didn’t look like I was going through chemo.

I had been warned by my sarcoma mentor that my hair would fall out on Day 21 of treatment. And it did. Boy, did it fall out! Even though the children and I had discussed the shaving process and had made a plan, I had not counted on losing my hair ON Thanksgiving day, when no one would be around to shave it. Luckily, there are many great headwear products online, and they are probably much more comfortable than the expensive wig I bought! I took my daughter with me to pick it up, and she tried on a number of wigs. That seemed to help ease some of her anxiety, but I found that it took time for the kids to get used to me in a cap or other hair contraption anyway. It was hard for me, too. And I didn’t just lose the hair on my head. Eyelashes and eyebrows and most other body hair fell out eventually as well.

Several weeks after I lost my hair, my dad came for a visit. I was wearing a thick headband and a hair piece as we drove to a special event for my daughter. Someone wanted the window down, so we acquiesced. Quickly, my dad realized this was a mistake and said, "Hurry!! We have to put up the window before your mom’s hair flies off!" We laughed so hard. Maybe "chemo jokes" are not funny to everyone, even my children, but I have learned that you have to laugh at yourself sometimes, even in crisis.

Once the hair started to come back, I found I relaxed at home and could exist sometimes without covering my head. The kids and I were excited to see the hair grow a bit, and since Mad Max was popular, we felt like I could have fit in easily with that cast! My son said, "Mom, you look like a bad-ass in those movies where the girl takes off her wig and starts fighting!"

We got over the shock of my appearance and could then focus on the most important part--my overall health and fighting the cancer that might be lurking. The children were part of that process and had to wash hands, eat more nutritious food and work on becoming more compassionate when family members were sick. We talked about how the outward appearance only tells a small part of someone’s story.

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