A Case of Mistaken Identity

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Look at me, I’m bald!

With 10 years of life as a bald woman behind me, I’ve experienced my share of head turns, inquiring comments, unwanted stares, and assumptions that my hair loss is chemotherapy related.  The attention used to stress me out big time.  Alopecia is sudden so requires instant adjustments.  As an Alopecian, I’m not physically sick, I just lack hair.

Early on as a bald woman, I was easily traumatized by the negative attention, but  as time passed, I became immune to the comments and questions regarding which type of cancer I was battling.  I came to realize that curiosity and its hopeful root, genuine concern, is just a part of human nature.  I’m no longer bothered by people wanting to reach out to me with kind words and prayers and am okay with being asked to go to the front of a long line or other acts of kindness based upon wrong assumptions about my health status.Ah, but how life’s chapters can chip at those hard-earned layers of emotional wisdom.

Recently, my mother was diagnosed with Lymphoma and is receiving chemotherapy.  I am both her advocate and caretaker during this difficult journey.   I take her to her oncology visits and her infusion sessions.  As much as I thought I was finally comfortable in my own hairless skin (and head scarf), walking into an oncology practice  as a bald person feels a bit like a time capsule trip back to day 30 as a bald woman.

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As I sit, stand, walk at my mom’s side, I am repeatedly asked “Which doctor are you here to see?” or “What time is your appointment?” or “Are you here for the doctor or the lab?”.  I’m having trouble ignoring the sympathetic looks from other patients as well.  I want to shout, “I don’t have cancer!” but how inappropriate would that be with a waiting room full of cancer patients?

It seems it only takes a new back-drop like this for my “bald sensitivity barometer” to sky-rocket once again.  I thought about wearing one of my “Understanding Alopecia” t-shirts, but Alopecia is so poorly understood and such a publicly unknown disease, my t-shirt would probably just prolong the stares as they wondered what is this terrible (possibly contagious?) condition I suffer from.

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For me it’s baldness, but you’ve undoubtedly experienced similar unwanted cases of mistaken identity or episodes of public attention for physical attributes you’d erase in a minute if you had the power.  How do you handle such situations?  Mom is only 1 chemo session into her treatment, so I have a whole lot more episodes ahead.  Any advice?

Susan Beausang, 4Women.com

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