We have this little cousin 7 years old that has brain cancer and she is getting chemotheraphy every week. She is starting to lose her hair and we do not know what to do or say to make her feel better. She says that she does not want to lose her hair and cries. Please help us and let us know what to do.
~ At a loss over child's hair loss
Dear At a Loss,
Thanks for your e-mail though I am sorry for the reason.
As for your question on how to help you 7 year old cousin, it is hard to watch someone you love, and someone so young, have to go through such a tough ordeal.
As for her sadness about losing her hair - the first thing I would say is to just give her space to be sad. Yes it is about the hair but it is probably also about the fact that she has little control over all that is happening to her. She got no say in getting cancer or having to go through chemo or dealing with all the side effects. The hair is such a visual thing that it means that anyone who sees her will know and she will have to deal with their reactions. This is a lot for a grown-up to deal with, let alone a child.
Statements like, "I know it is sad.", or "I am sorry that that chemo made you lose your hair." and then allowing her to be upset for a little while can help her deal with her emotions.
After a pause or if she seems open, I might follow up with more positive comments like, "Hair or no - you are so beautiful.", or "I'm sorry that you lost your hair but I am glad that the chemo is in there helping you get better.", or "You are very strong girl to deal with all of this."
One thing that is often offered but sometimes doesn't help because it feels dismissive is to remind the person that it will grow back. So instead of just saying this you might consider: "I know it might not feel very comforting right now but does it help to be reminded that it will grow back?" Just remember that she may say 'no' which is a completely reasonable answer.
If she is open to a little humor (which can often help at the right time) you might jest about whether it will come back purple or something like that.
In terms of actions of things you can actually do: experimenting with scarves or a wig can help a little. You can find some ideas by clicking here.
In a recent development, Mattel has created a Bald Barbie that will be offered to hospitals where children are getting chemo. Whether that would help or if it inspires you with ideas, I don't know but it is encouraging.
Finally, as a sign of solidarity with your cousin, you or others close to her might even consider shaving your own heads to help her feel like she isn't quite so alone. Of course that is a grand gesture and may not be something you are open to but it is something people have done for those dealing with cancer treatment.
I hope some of this advice helps. I do feel for your cousin and all of your family. Obviously you care about each other deeply to be seeking ways to help and this in and of itself is probably the most important thing at this time.
Please take care,
P.S. Feel free to get back in touch with an update or more questions.
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Annie Zirkel, LPC is a Speaker, Author and Relationship Consultant based in Ann Arbor, Michigan who (like many people) knows what it is like to have a loved one going through chemo. Contact her at email@example.com.