How a Bride Diagnosed With Breast Cancer Months Before Her Wedding Day Kept Her Hair (and Her Cool)
Cancer, as we all know, is a merciless disease.
So when bride-to-be Allison was diagnosed with breast cancer nearly three months before her wedding date, it would've been understandable for her to halt her planning, put the wedding on hold and focus on her health.
Instead, Allison did just the opposite—realizing canceling the wedding would've been stressful and expensive, she marched forward with her plans, not knowing exactly what the future would hold in regards to her health.
Allison was—on top of planning out things like color palettes and ceremony programs—undergoing chemotherapy treatments in the months and weeks leading up to her wedding date.
"I suppose a bright side of the diagnosis was that only the truly important things about the wedding seemed to matter anymore," she says. "Several aspects of planning didn't get much attention and I didn't even see the venue until the week of our wedding [due to treatments]."
Forging forward with her plans for a "big" wedding, Allison's next concern was her appearance.
"I didn't want our day to be tainted by memories of chemo," she says. "I didn't want to look at our wedding photos and immediately think about chemotherapy."
Luckily, Allison found an oncologist specializing in breast cancers in young women. Allison—as a recently diagnosed patient—learned she had the option to lose her hair during chemotherapy, or try out a new technology called "scalp-cooling" that all but guaranteed to save her hair by reducing the blood flow to the scalp area during chemotherapy (which, in turn, saves hair cells from the exposure).
Of course, Allison was skeptical, and worried the new tech wouldn't work as promised—and that watching her hair fall out slowly "would be more painful than having it all fall out at once."
But Allison's oncologist—Virginia F. Borges, MD—knew Allison fit the bill for a successful treatment, and the rewards far outweighed the risks. (Chemotherapy can, after all, lead to permanent hair loss—and baldness can be difficult for some women to embrace, especially on an important event like their wedding day.)
"When a person has lost their hair, it signals to everyone that they're on treatment for cancer," Borges explains. "Sadly, a lot of people say [terrible] things, like they know of people who've died of cancer or had terrible side effects from chemo."
So, it was worth a shot. Knowing how important keeping her hair would be to Allison on her wedding day, doctor and patient moved forward with the scalp-cooling process.
And it worked.
Styled in an on-trend, messy updo, Allison's hair was a little "too thin to create exactly what [she] wanted," but she says she looked and felt exactly like herself on her special day.
"Honestly, if it weren't for the DigniCap [scalp-cooling], I don't know if I would have gone through with a big wedding," Allison says. "Marrying Michael is the highlight of my life—and now when I look at our wedding photos, I think of the wonderful memories we made that night."
Allison—who's currently in radiation therapy—considers herself lucky, but some brides diagnosed with cancer might not have the same resources, medical support or finances to be able to see the same result.
Either way, both Allison and Borges have wonderful advice for any to-be-wed suffering from a cancer diagnosis.
"The wedding day just starts it off, but it's the marriage that's the fun and wonderful thing," Borges says. "I try to encourage my ladies to proceed with life and try to minimize the impact cancer is bringing to their year—the more normalcy [can be] maintained, the more you'll realize your life will go on and will probably be made stronger by the experience of chemo."
As for Allison, she says "the most special aspect of a wedding is being surrounded by the people you both love. Beauty will never bring you sustained joy or fulfillment, but having kind people in your life will."
She continues, "Your wedding day is about making a commitment to the person you love. Even though it wasn't exactly what I'd been dreaming of, I think I looked beautiful on my wedding day."
And we can't agree more.
Follow Allison's journey on Instagram.