Wigged Out

20 Mar

Dear LetterBalm: I underwent cancer surgery, followed by chemotherapy and radiation. One of the side effects is, as I expected, loss of my hair. I choose to wear a wig until my hair grows out. Only my family and a few of my friends know of my illness and recovery and, thank goodness, my prognosis is good. As part of my healing, I have a weekly group session with cancer survivors. During last week’s session, one of the group who doesn’t wear a wig criticized me for doing so. She said I’m “not being authentic” about facing my illness. Some in the group disagreed with her, most others agreed. Instead of initiating a dialogue, the therapist said she thought “I wasn’t being honest enough” about my victory over cancer and ended the topic. I was left speechless and devastated – I thought we were supposed to support one another and respect each other’s choices. I’m thinking of not returning, but I also want to tell them all, including the therapist, how I feel. Help me here.

–Bald, Beautiful and Bewigged

Ah, the tyranny of serious disease. It can bring out the worst in people, including a particularly infuriating smugness and superiority among fellow survivors and health professionals. There’s no one right way to recover, and it’s your business how you deal with it and if you opt to wear a wig. Ms. L.B. applauds you for your strength and sends good wishes. Now, on to business. It’s your choice as to whether you remain with this bunch – you have every right to seek another therapist and therapy group. Meanwhile, at your next session when you have the floor, say something like this, keeping calm and not rising to the bait:

At last week’s session, many of your criticized me for wearing a wig during my recovery. I wish to respond. I thought the purpose of these sessions was to support one another and respect each other’s choices, but I see that I am mistaken. We’re all dealing with cancer and seeking our recovery in ways that make sense for each of us, and in these sessions those differences have been validated and respected. Until last week. As our therapist, you should not have expressed your own opinion and shut down the discussion before I had a chance to respond. There’s no one “right way” to recovery, and last week’s session was hurtful and unhelpful to me. I welcome the opportunity to discuss my choices. [If you decide to leave, you can say this: I’m leaving now, and I won’t be back. Before I go, I want you to know I do wish you all a long and healthy life.]

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