Scarf Stares

I’ve come to accept my bald head.  While I’m don’t exactly feel like “Bald is Beautiful” on me, I feel like “Bald ain’t so bad.” Every time something is taken away from me (my breasts, my hair, my dignity), I am more grateful for what I still do have, like a positive attitude.  THAT is something that can never be taken away from me (Silver Lining!)

Even though I have a wig that is made out of real hair, feels light weight and is actually fairly attractive, it is still uncomfortable and itchy.  I find that I really only want to wear it for short periods of time (like taking our daughter, Finally Five to school or going out on the rare evening). Scarves are simply much more comfortable.

I have invested in some really chic cotton ones that tie easily, don’t slip and are very lightweight (SL).  After playing around with them and finding my “look”, I was feeling pretty good.

What have unexpectedly descended are the “Scarf Stares”.

Whoa.  The “Scarf Stares” came out of nowhere.  The first time I really noticed them, I was feeling pretty put together in my Hermes scarf, sparkly earrings and coordinating outfit.

I had to go get my blood drawn before my second round of chemo.  While in the waiting room, a woman (who had to be in her mid-60’s) was sitting across from me, staring.  Full on staring. She made absolutely no attempt to divert her stare.  Finally, it was so outrageously rude that I just had to call her out.

Can I help you with something, Ma’am?, I asked.

She looked horrified. “N-n-n-no,” she said.

Why are you staring at me, then?

“I don’t know,” she said.

Well, if you want to talk about something, please do let me know, I said.

Geez-Louise.  She really should have known better.  However, I’m now all-too-aware that most people don’t, in fact, know better.

I was in the clinic the other day getting fluids (one of the 5 days last week that I received IV hydration) and a young woman came in with her mother.  I overheard her say that she was getting her Neulesta shot.  F-bomb.  Another young woman with FBC.

She had a full head of hair, leading me to believe that she had just had her first round of chemo (hope it went better for her than it did for me!).

I was sitting in my treatment chair and when I looked up, both mother and daughter (i.e., patient) were both staring. Right at me. I smiled. I understood why they were staring. This was so unlike the previous situation.  In this circumstance, I had complete empathy, knowing that they were staring because the young woman knew that she would soon be in the same situation (i.e., bald). I really wanted to get up and go over to her and say, it will be ok.  It’s not so bad. You. Can. Do. This.

So, I’ve come to acknowledge the fact that there will simply be a whole lot of staring for the next few months.  Most of the time, the stares are filled with sympathy. They really don’t make me feel any better, but I know it’s not about me.  Seeing me may remind them of a friend or loved one with cancer.  Seeing me may just make them sad that there is so much cancer in the world.  I don’t really know.  I just keep my head high and go on about my day.

However, when someone is overtly staring for a prolonged period of time, I always ask if I can help them with something, which usually elicits a “caught in the cookie jar” reaction. Next time I get a chronic starer, I may just need to show them what’s behind the curtain.

Oh, my friend, it’s not what they take away from you that counts.  It’s what you do with what you have left.

~Hubert Humphrey

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  1. Patty Taylor says

    Hi Susan i too have Alopecia and after so many years wearing wigs i decided to shave my head it was a very hard decision because i love having hair. the wigs were getting very uncomfortable and hot flash OMG! yes this week i am getting the stares,the pretend am not looking and the are you okay? i knew this would happen but it's still is hard i can just imagaine how anyone who has cancer feels.

  2. Gaynor says

    Having tried to find my 'look' following losing my hair through chemo, I finally went au natural at the weekend. It has taken me nearly 4 months and there are small signs of regrowth( although still 1 chemo to go) nothing to shout about but a definite stubbly hairline! I couldn't get on with the wig ( felt I was living a lie behind a hairy hat which was uncomfortable etc etc ) and while I had lots of lovely comments re my coordinated scarves, I just got fed up faffing around and wanted to get 'me' back. I can honestly say Ive had less stares being bald than when I wear scarves. Now no one meets my eye! I'm going to meet friends later today, one of whom has had cancer previously and seems mystified why I don't wear my wig and I almost feels 'bullies' me into wearing it, who have not seen the new look. Wish me luck, I hope I don't put them off their coffee and cake!

    • says

      Dear Gaynor,
      Thank you so much for your comment. How GREAT is a stubbly hairline? Oh my gosh. I was so excited when I had mine. Interesting about having fewer stares bald.
      GOOD LUCK…and please don't allow yourself to bullied. I'm in your pocket cheering you on!
      Take good care,

  3. E.B. says

    Just found this post, browsing through your blog (one of my all-time favorites, so happy I found it!) and thought of my Mom who when she got a "starer" would wink at them, wave hello and sometimes even blow them a kiss. She had an amazing, positive, vibrant attitude. There were a few times when the "starer" was particularly rude, she did whip her scarf off. The reactions to that were priceless, they did not know WHERE to look. One particularly rude starer in an elevator stared straight up to the ceiling after Mom casually swept her scarf off, it was a very slow elevator with a lot of floors. When we finally got to the ground floor, Mom sweetly suggested they get some Ben Gay because their neck was going to be really kinked up. She was something else, my Mom.

    • says

      Thanks so much for your comment, E.B.! What a wonderful story about your mom. Sounds like she was indeed something else…& quite an inspiration! Thanks, again!

  4. says

    As an Alopecian who has opted for a lifelong devotion to head scarves over wigs, I so know those stares. While I have never been diagnosed with cancer, I've gone to great lengths to cheat cancer (prophylactic double mastectomy, oophorectomy, whipple). I get the "oh no, you have cancer" stares daily, but no where near as much as in medical treatment facilities. I participated in a Moffitt study and every time a nurse came in to take routine blood samples, etc, they would look at me in my head scarf and ask me about my treatment drugs, over and over and over. We're talking the same people over and over. No matter how loudly, how clearly I said it, they just could not hear that I didn't have cancer. So context is everything. At least elsewhere, when I explain that I don't have cancer, I'm just bald, the listener can actually hear my words over those words playing in their mind. Good for you for addressing them straight and direct.


    • says

      Thanks a million for your comment, Susan. We have a dear friend with Alopecia and has faced comparable experiences. All my best wishes to you!

  5. Theresa Edwards says

    once again you put it so beautifully in words … those stares are something to contend with … I am now getting re-growth (i.e. on Taxol weekly and now the hair is re growing) and have abandoned the scarves … to more stares … so decided to do it all and adopted a bohemian look this week .. to even more stares …. giggles … I am bad I know …

  6. kelly says

    Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is exhausting for children to have to provide explanations over and over again. -the little prince

    Cannot help thinking the children from your daughter's pre-school could have given you an assist today…

    sending love and a gentle gaze

  7. LGB says

    Holly, My daughter and I met you in NY last Fall at the CH show. We have the same hairdresser and she told me about your blog early on.I have been reading it since and find it incredibly courageous.I pray for you every night.
    Please let me know if you need anything.