The wonderfully cheery 66-year-old woman sitting in the conference room with her family listened to us explain her diagnosis – ovarian cancer – the first occurrence. We explained that ovarian cancer tends to appear suddenly with non-specific symptoms preceding it. Its prognosis can be quite good if treated aggressively with surgery and chemotherapy, but recurrence rates are very high. We told her to be positive because her 5-year survival looked quite good.
“Oh, I’m a fighter! We all know that,” she said, with a twinkle in her eye.
We explained the chemotherapy regimen. Then she asked about hair loss. Typically hair loss begins within two to three weeks of chemotherapy. We suggest that patients cut their hair as short as possible prior to starting chemo, so that when they lose it, it is easier to clean up. For the first time during our conversation, she started to tear up. For many women, their ovarian cancer is invisible to the rest of the world. But when they lose their hair, everyone around them can finally see that something is wrong.
“I feel like I’m going to be less of a woman, when my hair is gone,” she stated, sadly.
Her four middle-aged daughters were sitting next to her, on either side. One of them immediately said, “Mum, do you want me to go short too? We’ll match!” and her sister joined in, “I’ll cut my hair too! Let’s all get matching hats together!” The mother immediately perked up again at this display of love and solidarity from her daughters.
This showed me just how important family is.