How do I explain?

How do I explain hair loss to a toddler?

I’ve tried.  Believe me, I’ve tried.  I’ve tried to explain to 2 year old Widget that Mommy has very short hair now, and wears hats, and I’m still the same Mommy.  That soon Mommy will have REALLY short hair, or no hair, like baby Little Bear!  He giggles and thinks it’s funny.  Unless we’re headed to bed and I’m wearing my haircap and Buff.  Then he wants “Mommy!  Hat off!”  But I have to keep it on to collect the hair that falls out overnight, so it doesn’t make such a mess on my pillow.

The last two days have been different.  My hair … is falling out in clumps.  Big clumps.  So we’ve spent the days outside (so as not to muck up the house — like the first two days with a rescue dog! — for those of you who have fostered/adoped a dog from animal rescue, you know that no matter what you do, a new dog from the animal shelter is probably going to make a mess of your house in the first 48 hours.  So we typically spend much of those days outside if the weather is nice), on the hammock, mostly.

The chemo is working.  When chemotherapy acts on a person, it first slows the rate of fast-growing cells.  The most fast-growing cell in the body is a cancer cell.  The second is the hair follicles.  The third is mucus membranes, like those that replenish the mouth, nose, and throat. 

My hair is falling out in clumps.  When I run my hands through my hair, they come out looking like I just petted a stray Newfoundland.  If I grab a piece and tug, it comes out — with a couple dozen of its friends.  The hair comes out complete with follicle (for those of you who are curious, like my husband was), but no white marker on the end — because the skin has let go of the follicles, and they are no longer growing.

But they are making a mess of my shower!

So how do I explain this to my toddler?  So far, the best I’ve come up with is, “Mommy’s hair is going bye-bye.  Soon my hair will look like Little Bear’s!  But I will always love you.”

And I will.


47 Responses to How do I explain?

  1. canape says:

    Oh that first 48 hours with a new foster. I don’t miss that part at all. What I remember most about that first 48 hours is how I would think to myself over and over again about how I could never love this dog and how it would never calm down and settle in. And then, I always loved it and it always settled in.

    So I love that image of you staying outside like a new foster. Because I know that in a couple of days you will settle in and be just fine.

  2. I don’t know how I’d explain that… do they know you’re getting medicine because your body needs help right now? If so, why not say that your body is putting all its strength into getting strong and healthy, and hair gets in the way. Just like you said – your hair taking flight is a sign that the medicine is working, so hooray! It’s a good thing, and when mama’s hair grows back, it’s going to brand new and fresh and soft like a teddy bear, and that will be the first sign that you’ll all know that mama’s on the mend.

    That’s the way I’d like to think of it, anyway.

  3. mc milker says:


    I add my tears. While I have been following your journey for awhile now, I had, until now not posted on my own blog about it, not knowing what to say.

    Today I did.

  4. Robin says:

    Glad to hear you’re able to get outside, I hope that means the pain is better! I think there might be two issues going on here, why the hair loss (and I’m not sure you can ever answer all the whys…) and why the hats. If the hats are bothering him, maybe find a hat you can decorate together? Thinking of you!

  5. binkytown says:

    This might be off the mark but how long is sweet toddlers hair? Can you take him for a haircut? Make an event of it? A buzz cut of sorts so he understands it’s just hair and right now mommy’s hair is short- like his? Maybe that would help make a connection and then it could be a non-issue for him? Side note: My husband has no hair (heredity) and he loves Aveda shampoo on his scalp. Can you get some there? If not, email me your address and I’ll send you some.

  6. Scylla says:

    Whymommy, your post made me tear up. I don’t know how to explain it to someone so little. I think what you have been sayings sounds fine, and cute too. My thoughts are with you. I am glad the chemo is working.

  7. amanda says:

    Hmm, I had a favorite book when I was little, “Heather’s Feathers.” It was about the molting process. Very sweet, gently demonstrating how different we each are. What about the dog angle? You are getting a new coat, letting loose the hair you have so a shiny new head of hair can grow in. It’s exciting…am I nuts?

    And of course you love them, they love you too, hair or no hair!

  8. motherofbun says:

    When you mentioned how losing your hair is like the first 48 hours with a new foster dog, I understood exactly what you meant. I never knew why people lose their hair during chemo. So this post answered that question for me.

    Still plan to post your inflamatory breast cancer post on my site — though it may be another week or two. Hope that’s ok.

    Oh and a bunch of us chicks toasted you at BlogHer. You were definitely thought of and missed. 🙂

  9. LawyerMama says:

    You were missed in Chicago, friend. You were missed. But I, and many others, thought of you often.

  10. Ally says:

    Your explanation to him sounds great. The fact that he thinks it is funny is a big indicator that you’ve explained it well, I think. I’m thinking and praying for you often, WM. Hugs to you today.

  11. jtcosby says:

    I was wondering if your toddler knows about the medicine? If so, would that help to mention the medicine is working if your hair is falling out or is that not the right thing to say? I wish I could hug you…love in Christ, Tamara

  12. MammaLoves says:

    Ugh! That is a punch in the gut.

    And you’ve had your fill of them.

    I guess the silver lining if there is one, is that it means it’s working?

    I’m glad the sun is shining for your outside time. You deserve it!

  13. Imstell says:

    WhyMommy, I felt your pain. My choice was to embrace it. And here was my reasoning. Keep in mind that B was in kindergarten and not a 2 year old… but a life lesson is a life lesson is a life lesson.

    I told him that Mommy was sick and needed to take meds that would make her better. But in making me better it would make me loose my hair. The more hair I lost the better less sick I would be. So we could be proud of my hair loss. He quite often demanded that I remove my hat and show his friends (and perfect strangers) my baldness. Though sometimes embarrassing, I always obliged. After all, I had nothing to be ashamed of. I was in a fight for my life.

    Everyone was very cool about the whole thing and it opened great lines of communication. I actually found it much more uncomfortable once my hair started growing back in! Then I got lots of “Hmph! Lesbian!” looks. LOL!

  14. whymommy says:

    Lol, Imstell! That made me chuckle. I guess it will be gone/short for quite a while, won’t it! The good news is, I’ll finally get to wear the hats I’ve been saving (so I didn’t stretch them out with my hair).

    Thanks everyone for the sweet comments. This too will pass….

  15. Spacemom says:

    I love the idea of explaining that as your hair falls out, it means the medicines are working hard to make you better.

    And eventually, when you are better, it will grow back and maybe he can help you draw pictrues of what your hair will look like when it grows back…blue with pink polka dots?

    The good thing is that the hair loss does truly mean that you are getting that stupid cancer to stop dividing! Bad cancer. You can leave WhyMommy now!

  16. You are doing a wonderful job of explaining your hair loss to your toddler in an age-appropriate way, Whymommy. It is wonderful that he is asking, and you are giving him truth. It feels like this is all happening so quickly to you, but he is watching the process, and so long as you continue being truthful, he won’t be afraid. He’ll be even prouder of his brave mummy than we are…

    Bald IS beautiful, it’s all part of the battle you’re waging with such courage and strength. YOU are showing us ALL “how it’s done”.

    Sending you love and support, as always xoxo

  17. Mom101 says:

    “The chemo is working” is the best part of this whole post. Maybe we can get mod*mom to point you towards some cool hats?

  18. ~JJ! says:

    You are so amazing.
    You are teaching these children the most important thing in life.

    It’s all worth it.

    Fighting. Worth it.

  19. Your post is front and centre on my blog today, Whymommy:

    Bless you. CGF xoxo

  20. As far as I know, toddlers and babies react poorly to any kind of hairstyle change in a parent. So if it helps, he might have reacted just the same if you had simply chosen to have a new look.

    You’re doing great. The way you’re talking to the boys is perfect, I think.

    And the chemo is WORKING! Nothing better!

  21. Jennifer says:

    Glad to hear the chemo is working. I got a few inches chopped off my hair and my 21 month old didn’t recognize me. He got over it. Your babes will. too.

  22. Arkie Mama says:

    You bring up so many elements that I never thought of — bless you for doing that. You are not only inspire, but educate.

    It sounds as though you’re doing a great job of explaining things to your toddler. Simple works better for those little people.

    Am so glad to hear you’re able to spend so much time outside. I’m a big believer in the healing powers of a little sunshine.

    Stay strong.

  23. Karen says:

    I wanted to let you know I met a friend of yours at BH and she totally made me cry – smack her will you? I was drunk, so I have forgotten her name, but she was really sweet in letting me know that your attendence at the SL conference meant a lot to you and that was pretty cool to hear.

    As for the hair – I don’t know – but I’m sure you’ll find the right words. You know what’s important.

  24. ohamanda says:

    That’s THE best way to describe it!

  25. Alice C says:

    A toddler’s world is so small that whatever you are and whatever you do is normal to them. It is only when you do something different from yesterday that they notice the difference. And they soon accept the new normal. They don’t compare you to other people. So provided you confidently project a sense that your new hair style is cool they will be fine.
    Think of all the toddlers who have mothers with coloured hair, punk hairstyles, dreadlocks…
    It is the adults who find it difficult!
    Wishing you sunshine tomorrow.

  26. Aliki says:

    I think you’ve probably done an incredible job explaining. Kids that age will take most explanations, no matter how strange they might seem.

  27. slouching mom’s right, i remember when i donned my new bangs, my son’s buddy stared and stared at me and then finally said “is that a wig?”
    i love what you told Widget its what comes naturally…

  28. christine says:

    maybe there is a book out there? you never know what the local children’s librarian can suggest. how do YOU feel about the loss?

  29. Lynn in GA says:

    Oh those silly foster dogs! I’ve had a few of those. My beloved dog came from the pound – full of a shedding undercoat and rivers of doggie snot from having kennel cough. Hubby’s reaction when he first saw her- “what is that?” I won’t tell you the rude comments he made in response when I told him it was our new dog.

    I’m glad that the chemo is working! I picture it like Pac-Man going “wonka-wonka-wonka” eating up all the cancer cells in its path. You’re in my thoughts and prayers!

  30. Your oldest friend, Adam says:

    So, am I the only one here to think that having no hair means a break from shaving legs? Of all the Ag cloud linings, that has got to be the best one.

  31. MemeGRL says:

    Hey, WhyMommy. Thanks for visiting my blog with all else you have to do.
    DO throw away the stats. YOU are not a number. You are you. And the numbers are not what they seem to be.
    Get a great onc. And I was totally serious–if you want a cheerleader/shoulder/guide to surviving IBC as mom of young kids, it’s my BFF’s fifth calling (I think wife, mom, poet,and teacher come first, but it’s still a labor of love for her). Just say the word and I’ll connect you. Hang in there and brush hair outside!
    And my Sister In Law found silk scarves comfiest on bald/baldish head. And Adam is totally right about the shaving–woo-hoo on that too!

  32. Surviving says:

    There is a woman locally who is also going through Chemo. She chose to just shave her head when it started falling out. Like someone else suggested maybe it is something you could do together with your toddler.

  33. Mandi says:

    Can’t even imagine having to explain that. I never knew the reason why hair fell out during chemo, and am glad to learn a little something here today. My strongest wishes going out to you that the chemo is destroying those cancer cells along with your hair.

  34. Stimey says:

    Congratulations on physical signs of your chemo working! I love that you and WonderDaddy are still scientists to the core, checking the follicles of the hair.

  35. Just droppin a note to check in. Thank you for the Linky love. I apprecite it especially since I get very few visitors before I came looking for you all. I hope that today finds you feeling better.Someday soon I hope you feel like you, whoever you are when this trail is over. Your sweet boy may not understand fully but my 3 year old explained to me that Poppy (my grandpa who passed the day after Christmas 20 days after losing my grandma) was with my grandma in heaven and watching us so I shouldn’t be sad because he is happy. They are amazing little souls who have a tendency to put life in perfect perspective. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

  36. Marie says:

    Hi Tammy. I just discovered your page from Melody’s page (slurping life) I just wanted to add my love, support and prayers to everyone else’s. My mom is a breast cancer survivor so I know a bit of what you are going through. I’ll be back to check in frequently, and just so you know, you are now on my prayer list!

  37. You are such a strong woman! Your courage inspires me–truly!

    It is so difficult to explain so many things to our young children. We just have to do what feel is right and answer their questions with simplicity, but enough that will satisfy their craving for knowledge.

    You are in my thoughts!

  38. ana says:

    “The chemo is working. When chemotherapy acts on a person, it first slows the rate of fast-growing cells. The most fast-growing cell in the body is a cancer cell. The second is the hair follicles. The third is mucus membranes, like those that replenish the mouth, nose, and throat.”

    There couldn’t be anything more beautiful about this post than to hear you say this! AMEN!!

    Lil man is gonna love his mama hair or not, isn’t that wonderful! Kids have an incredible way of processing things we sometimes don’t give them credit for. (Mama’s sick; mama’s taking medicine; mama’s hair doesn’t like the medicine, but the medicine makes mama get better. When mama’s all better and finished taking the medicine her hair will come back…) Kiss your beautiful babies for me. They are precious!

  39. I admire how even through your pain and suffering, like a good Mama, you are able to worry about your children and the doggy. You are very strong and I’m praying for ya!

  40. Momish says:

    I admire your courage and great attitude. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to explain something like hair loss to a toddler, but it seems to me you found the perfect way! My thoughts are with you!

  41. movingmama says:

    So sorry you have to go through this…Cancer has been a part of my family’s life forever. Both my parents have gone through it, along with my mother in law, and countless other relatives. This year I was told I have a genetic mutation that makes my chances of getting breast and/or ovarian cancer astronomically high (and probably at the early age of my mother). Long story short, I feel for you and your family. As a young mother, this is a hard journey… Prayers for you to find the words you need.

  42. Debi says:

    I mentioned in my first comment that I’m an Oncology Clinical Specialist. It’s ok to tell your little one that Mommy has an “invader” inside her that makes her not feel so good BUT she’s taking medicine to get rid of the invader and Mommy losing hair means the medicine is working and the invader is leaving. I really believe it’s best to let kids know you’re sick but taking medicine to get better because they know you’re different and sometimes don’t feel well. You may even smell different to them because the chemo is excreted in sweat and you may even have a bad taste in your mouth (suck on a gummy bear – no sharp edges to wound your tender mucous membranes.)

    I’m here for you if you have questions or just need a sounding board 🙂

  43. j slothower says:

    Hi! I IM’ed with you a little at the SL BlogHer conference where I am JadeBlue. That was an interesting conference.
    You’re amazing. You have so much support from so many different places. We are sending our prayers and positive energy. I have posted a link about your cancer in my blog. Thank you for sharing. Don’t let the weirdness of healthcare get you down. Think of how it can work for you.

  44. whymommy says:

    These are all wonderful answers. I finally told Widget that “Mommy is sick” when he asked about the hair two nights ago. I just want eveything to be normal for him…but I know now that’s just not possible for the next few weeks/months while I have chemo and the major surgery. 😦 All I can do is remind him that I love him so much. And snuggle the baby when I can.

  45. I think you should explain it as gently as possible and just tell your toddler that mommy is a little sick and that her hair may be going now but hopefully it will come back when mommy gets better.

    Keep the faith, God Bless you and I hope everything works out for the best!

  46. Marisa says:

    My son was 2 when I was diagnosed with lymphoma (and I was pregnant with my daughter) and I remember crying in my oncologist’s office because I was afraid that my son would be scared of me when I would become bald. He never did. I think he noticed that something was different that first time he saw me (I was doing my chemo as an in-patient so it wasn’t a gradual change — it was instant) but he never said anything. He kind of looked at me funny, and then that was it.

    If it’s any consolation, he is now almost 5 and has barely any recollection of that time.

    Fight the good fight.

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