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Talking of Hair: Reflections from a Daughter and Mother

By: Aaliyah and Jessica Newswanger

My name is Aaliyah Newswanger and I’m 14 years old. In the beginning of April 2021, I lost my hair due to chemotherapy. My hair was one of my biggest confident points in myself, and it was heartbreaking for me when I lost it. I could run my fingers through my hair and it would come out in clumps. Eventually, I decided to just shave it off. I had my mom do it for me, and I couldn’t face the mirror while she did it because I didn’t want to see myself. I cried super hard watching my hair fall on to the floor. I never really thought I was pretty, but seeing myself without hair for the first time made me see myself so much worse. So many thoughts ran through my head. One of the most common ones was, “Who would ever love someone who looks like me?” There were many people who made me feel better, though. I got lots of comments like, “Wow, you look so pretty!” and “Having no hair really looks good on you!” and my personal favorite, “You rock looking like that!” Eventually I got used to not having hair and I slowly started getting my confidence back. I learned that being bald and having cancer doesn’t define me. I’m my own person and I can choose how I want to live my life. I won’t let my sickness define me. That’s the message I want to send to everyone out there who has any kind of sickness. Your sickness doesn’t define you. Neither does your appearance. Love yourself.

When Aaliyah learned of her diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, there were two things that scared her the most: being nauseous/throwing up and losing her hair. Those are the things you hear the most about. If you get chemo, you get incredibly sick and your hair falls out. Her doctor told her right away that she will lose her hair. It really helped that he was so straightforward about it. It helped her (and myself) emotionally prepare ourselves – as much as we could anyway. We were told it would take about two weeks from her first chemo treatment for her hair to start to fall out. It was almost exactly two weeks. I had read during my research about Hodgkin’s that choosing to shave your head when it starts to fall out, or before, can make it a little bit easier to handle. By choosing to shave your hair off, you are taking control in a time when there isn’t much that can be controlled. Shaving my daughter’s hair, and seeing how it was breaking her heart, was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. As a grown woman, losing my hair would be so emotionally devastating, let alone losing it as a teen girl when appearance is such an important part of how you see yourself. Aaliyah and I went to a salon to look at wigs and the stylist said something that really resonated with me. She said she believes that every woman, at some point in their life, should shave their head. It would make us all realize that how we look isn’t important. Hair isn’t important. Your heart, your mind, your soul, who you are on the inside, is what matters. Aaliyah decided that day to not get a wig. She decided to embrace herself as she is, without hair. And she is GORGEOUS with a bald head. I am so proud of how she overcame her fear of how others would view her being bald. She learned to love herself for who she is, not how she looks. She smiled through her tears and didn’t let cancer rule her life. Hair doesn’t make you the amazing human that you are. Cancer does not define you. It is not who you are. You are unique. You are beautiful. You are a WARRIOR! You will kick cancer’s butt, and you will be so much stronger because of it.

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