Daily Dose: A Special Turban Tie Event for Cancer Patients

Daily Dose: A Special Turban Tie Event for Cancer Patients

On October 27, 2022, cancer patients and their allies gathered at Atrium Health Levine Cancer Institute learn a centuries-old art: tying turbans. Dr Jaspal Singh, medical director of pulmonary innovation and oncology at Levine Cancer Institute, led Pink Turban-Ting: A Breast Cancer Awareness Month Event. As Singh led the turban tying demonstration, volunteers helped more than 150 attendees tie their own turbans, and attendees were even able to take theirs home.

Turbans have become popular for covering the heads of people who have lost hair during chemotherapy. Cancer patients join a long and rich tradition. For more than a millennium, people have worn turbans all over the world, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Colors, fabrics, and tying methods can be full of meaning, perhaps a statement of faith, marital status, or simply fashion.

As a Sikh, Singh wears a turban every day as a public statement of responsibility. His faith sees the turban as a universal symbol of someone offering help to those in need. Singh also believes in covering his head in the presence of the divine, and since he feels God’s presence everywhere, he wears his turban every day. Each morning, the act of tying your turban is an empowering and spiritual act that gives you time for prayer, reflection, and mindfulness. It allows you to start your day with mission and focus.

The turbans worn by cancer patients are often different from those worn by Sikhs. Unlike a long piece of cloth that must be carefully wrapped around the head and tied, most cancer patients ask for pre-made turbans. Singh wanted to share the art of turban tying, and the empowerment and meaning that comes with it, with patients.

“We want to symbolize the idea that cancer survivors are heroes. They are going through hardships, and this will remind them that they are divine, that they are noble and that they have honor,” says Singh. “This gives him a sense of humanity. This is a multicultural event, a multicultural exchange of what is rich in our lives and in our societies”.

Offering help to those in need

If it seems unusual that a pulmonologist came up with the idea for a breast cancer awareness month event, dr Christina Strawhun he is not surprised at all. Strawhun, also a pulmonologist at Atrium Health, has worked with Singh for 13 years.

“Everything matters to Dr. Singh. He always looks for the next thing that he can do to help,” says Strawhun. “It is the nature of him to find another way that he can contribute.”

Strawhun experienced this firsthand during her own experience as a breast cancer survivor. Strawhun was diagnosed with stage 3 triple negative breast cancer in 2020. During her treatments, Singh would visit her and send her funny memes to lift her spirits. While Strawhun struggled with what to do about her own hair loss due to chemotherapy, she also wore a turban to the Levine Cancer Institute for her doctor appointments.

“I’m always interested in seeing Dr. Singh’s turban and the colors he chooses,” says Strawhun. “Hair is a key part of their representation of faith, and hair is also a very important part of women’s experiences with cancer. I think a lot of women struggle with identity and self-confidence when they lose their hair. And all of this seems to come together for me: these concepts of how we choose to represent ourselves to the world, how hair influences our identity and our representation of ourselves.

Strawhun’s breast cancer is now in remission. Although she works in pulmonology, she meets many patients who are also dealing with cancer and feels that she is in a unique place to offer support. She says it’s important to recognize the emotional toll hair loss can take, as well as the different ways to cope.

“We try to open up the conversation of, ‘How do you look? How do you want to look?’” she says. “These conversations, as well as events like the turban tying event, give people options on how they can represent themselves to the world.”

A source of honor and dignity

“Losing your hair, for many people, can be a deeply personal aspect of cancer, and it can feel like the disease has gained or taken something from them,” says Singh. He hopes that people who attend the turban-tying event and walk away with their own turban will see it as a way to deal with hair loss. “We encourage patients to wear their turban because we want people to recognize that it is a source of honor. It is a source of dignity. It is a source of power in many parts of the world.”

This is even more than turbans, says Strawhun. She says this event is one of many Levine Cancer Institute offers to support patients and their families beyond medical treatments, something she learned as a Levine Cancer Institute patient herself.

“There are not enough words to say how great my team at Levine Cancer Institute is,” says Strawhun. “My greatest hope for others going through cancer treatment is that they know there are so many resources here to help them and their families. This turban tying event is just one tiny piece of a huge puzzle that the Levine Cancer Institute brings to cancer care. I hope that this is the open door that people can walk through to discover and take advantage of everything that is offered to them.”

learn more about cancer support programs a Atrium Health Levine Cancer Institute.

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