Does Shaving Your Head in Support Make a Difference?

Singer Kellie Pickler shaved her head earlier this month as a sign of solidarity with her best friend, Summer Miller. Summer has a family history of breast cancer and was diagnosed with the disease in June at the age of 35. In a segment for “Good Morning America,” Kellie and Summer discussed shaving their heads together, highlighted the need for early detection, and encouraged women not to wait until 40 to get a mammogram.

Coverage of the act was extremely positive. Kellie was referred to as a “celebrity activist,” and one article noted that it’s unknown just how many “cancer patients were moved by her gesture.”

Kellie’s act clearly meant a lot to her and Summer, and that in and of itself is worthy of praise. I don’t doubt that she is a loving best friend, and I’ll keep Summer in my thoughts and prayers.

As a breast cancer survivor and advocate, how did I feel about the video?

1. A close friend of mine offered to shave her head as a show of support when I was going through chemotherapy. (I think she felt as though she was too far away geographically to help with the day-to-day so she wanted to make a grand gesture.) I thanked her for the offer and her ongoing friendship and support, but told her that I was vehemently against her doing it.

By the point that my friend had reached out, I had already started chemotherapy. I was so sick that being bald was the last thing on my mind. I also didn’t believe that having a friend shave her head would have made me feel any better. In fact, having a friend make herself look different at a minimum or worse at a maximum would just have made me feel worse. I was completely bald for six months. Would my friend shave her head every week to stay bald as long as I did? Would she — or anyone who hadn't had chemotherapy — really understand the range and intensity of side effects I was experiencing?

2. Kellie is a celebrity with a genuine desire to help the cause. I thus wish that she had done any or all of the following:

  • Donated her hair to Locks of Love or Beautiful Lengths. (Locks of Love is a nonprofit that uses donated hair to make wigs for financially disadvantaged children and young adults who have lost their hair from a medical condition. Beautiful Lengths is a partnership between Pantene and the American Cancer Society to provide hairpieces made from donations to women battling cancer.) Through shaving her head and then donating her hair, Kellie could have educated women about these nonprofits and how a donation of as little as 8" of hair can make a difference;
  • Connected with a cancer organization like St. Baldrick’s Foundation and set up an online fundraising page for people to donate who were inspired by her act. (St. Baldrick’s shavees shave their heads in solidarity with kids battling cancer, while raising money from family and friends with the Foundation); and
  • Provided accurate and more specific information such as:
  • All adult females should be conducting breast self-exams every month and getting a clinical breast exam from a doctor every year.
  • If a woman has a history of breast cancer in her family, then she should begin getting mammograms annually at the age of 35. If she doesn't, then she should get a baseline mammogram at 35 and begin annual mammograms at 40. Annual mammograms before the age of 40 aren’t supported by research because younger women have denser breasts, thus leading to more false positives.
  • And, finally, many young women don’t know what to do when they’ve found a lump. They also don’t realize that the overwhelming majority of breast lumps are benign (non-cancerous).

When Kellie shaved her head in solidarity with Summer, it was a special moment between two best friends. Given Kellie's reach and visibility, I just hope that the efforts and education don’t stop there.

Readers, how do you feel about what Kellie did? Are you a patient or survivor who was moved by the video? Do you regard Kellie as a celebrity activist?

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