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And it was one of the most liberating things I have ever done. Even though October is almost over, I want to reiterate what most of you already know. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. I’m not going to regurgitate the stats you’ve already heard. You know them. The risks are real. The chances of having breast cancer are high. Check yourself. Watch out for lumps. Live healthy.
Ok. Now that we’ve reiterated that… you may be wondering why I shaved my head. It started as just a whim. It was one of those things that kept popping up in my mind, and I would push it back down thinking, I could never do something like that. What would people think? One day while in college, I was sitting with my friends, and we were talking about Breast Cancer Awareness month and the volleyball game our school was having that night to promote the cause. It was called, “Dig Pink.”
I said, “Wouldn’t it be crazy if I shaved my head?” I believed that they would laugh and say yes, that would be insane, but they didn’t. They supported me! Though I brushed it off, after lunch, I went back to my room with my friend and grabbed the scissors. I cut a huge hunk of hair off the top of my head and said to her, “Now there’s no going back.”
I continued cutting the long parts off while she started shaving the back with my Venus razor. I never cried over the choice to shave my head. The first days were actually easier than the later months of regrowth. It was such a relief to have finally completed something that I had always considered doing.
Women tend to hide behind their hair. It has long been a point of beauty. Long hair is seen as lovely and feminine, while women with short hair, or none at all, are often viewed with sad, pitiful eyes. When you’re bald, there is nothing to hide behind. My family freaked out. I received many awkward glances and secret stares, but I also gained huge support. There were several different responses from people who didn’t know me. I couldn’t imagine how it would have felt if I had actually been fighting cancer – to deal with that AND everyone else’s feelings towards you. I don’t think that’s what cancer fighters want. They want to be treated with dignity and try to retain some sense of normalcy in their lives.
I was asked if I was sick several times, but that was what I wanted. I wanted to remind people that while I was not sick, there were thousands of women fighting a battle incomprehensible to us.
Hair is JUST hair. It will grow back. Choosing to shave mine off gave me a truer sense of self, and helped me relate to an entire group of people going through real problems. It made me grateful. I reevaluated my priorities. I can’t really describe the emotions I went through. There were different stages during regrowth that I questioned my choice, but I never regretted it.
I reflect on that experience often, and it always makes me rethink my stresses and “first-world” problems. I’m thankful for my health and my ability to go to work every day, even when I don’t want to. Every day, thousands of women wish they could be normal – have a job, tend to their children or spouse, and go out with no fear. Yet they can’t because their immune system is too weak and they’re fighting for their life.
Shaving my head and putting myself in their shoes, in this tiny way, opened my eyes to something I knew nothing about. I still can’t relate, but I have a better understanding of how it feels to lose one of humans’ most defining characteristics. I became a better person. I gained confidence, patience, and empathy – all things I struggled with as a 20-year old girl. It reminded me that life is always beautiful, whatever the struggle.
I’d like to end this post with a poem I wrote during the regrowth. I am no poet, but it was for a class and I recited it for an open mic night in college. It was the closest I came to crying through the entire experience.
An Ode to My Hair
a trying trek we trudge each day
my darling thin haired head
but what you’ve done for me, I pray
fewer words cannot be said
you pushed me in without a doubt
and told me not to care
what other fools may scream and shout
if they even dare
it’s hard to say what might have been
had I stopped to think a bit
my gutsiness kept running thin
I almost lost my wit
I grasped my locks of strawberry blonde
scared to let them go
never had I broken such a bond
that took so long to grow
I grabbed the scissors in my hand
to begin the daunting chore
down they fell, each little strand
followed by more and more
like paratroopers off to war
they dove like missiles down
screaming as they hit the floor
distressed to leave their crown
I cringed and cried with weepy tears
and breathed a relieving sigh
I overcame my biggest fear
and gladly waved goodbye
I broke through walls I’d refused to climb
to prove a point to all
hair will grow with passing time
but life is far too small
for someone else to say what’s right
it’s pointless, you will see
don’t stand down, take the fight
be all that you can be