Sunday marks one year since I shaved my head bald for St. Baldrick’s. My anxiety diminished along with my hair; at the end, I looked at my bald self and rejoiced, for I was finally seeing “me unconcealed.”
I liked what I saw–not the surface stuff, but the truer things beneath that. No matter what anyone else did or did not see, I looked into my own face and saw a me I wanted to be.
It was powerful. It was liberating, even apart from its inspiration, which was hope for an end to childhood cancer.
This weekend, a woman I’ve never met but admire tremendously will be shaving her head for St. Baldrick’s Team Robot Boy. Her son, almost exactly my own son’s age, has battled cancer for much of his life so far. She’s written about that here, and she’s written about his spirit on this very blog.
If you are able, please donate $5 for Robot Boy–or in honor of someone you love, in memory of someone you love, in hope for a future free from childhood cancer.
I love many people, and I love many people greatly, but there is no one I love more intensely or completely than one little boy named David. If you read my blog, you have come to know David as “Li’l D.” He is my son, and—although I once dreaded the prospect of parenthood—my life has been a million times brighter since he entered it three years ago.
For this one blog, I cannot call David “Li’l D.” Because, you see, this is a post about the loss of children, and “the loss of children” translates in my mind to “the loss of David.” Not “Li’l D.” David.
David: my exuberant, bossy, compassionate chatterbox of a son. My David.
Last September, I learned that September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. I ignored most of the posts I saw on the matter, because paying attention to them meant paying attention to the fact my own son could someday be among them.
I will cross that bridge if I get there, I told myself.
It was January before I steeled myself to read Donna’s Cancer Story, a series documenting one brave, beautiful girl’s battle with cancer. As I read it and for days afterward, I bawled, I cursed the universe, and ultimately held David tighter as I imagined what it would be like to say goodbye to him having barely just said “hello, my sunshine.”
As this September rolled around, I thought about what it would mean to me. I knew I’d read Donna’s Cancer Story again, and share it for those like me who couldn’t bear the thought of reading it the first time around.
I didn’t know I’d find myself also reading Aidan’s Cancer Story, and compelled by the memory of both Donna Quirke Hornik and Aidan Manning to look more deeply into why pediatric cancer awareness is important not only on a personal, empathy-building level but on an extremely practical one.
Thanks to What I Had Really Meant to Say for this opportunity to visit with hope today as part of the Hope 2012 blog relay.
The summer my mom snapped, I didn’t understand “hope.”
What I understood that summer was that I might never talk to my mom again. That the resources available to assist the mentally ill and their loved ones were woefully inadequate. That a woman could struggle through hardship after hardship only to find new hardships where at least one iota of peace ought have been.
I pieced hope together slowly over the years that followed. Shopping for hardware with my boyfriend one Mother’s Day, I found a colorful card that reminded me of my mom. I wrote on it that she’d always been a little colorful, but that her colors made the world brighter and richer. I delivered the card to her house only to have her scream and wave a shovel at me.
My boyfriend held one of my hands in both of his own as I cried in the front seat of his car. But I, like my siblings, kept at it. I believed something might happen to change the game tomorrow, or the day after it.
I passed by my mom on a run a couple of years later. Instead of screaming at me, she told me about all the neighborhood squirrels she was caring for. I slowed my run so I could accompany her all the way to the town’s bus station. I didn’t know if I’d ever have another moment like that, so I wanted to prolong and savor it.
Hope came a little easier after that.
Conversations were a little stilted when they happened, and my mom still occasionally accused her neighbors–and her children–of bizarre crimes, but conversations did happen. It seemed, after years of struggling, we might be getting somewhere.
Then, in the middle of 2009, my sister Rache called to tell me Mom’s doctor was concerned our mom might have “the C word.” My sister couldn’t even say it the first couple of times we spoke about Mom’s early appointments, so that I misunderstood what “C word” we were talking about. It hit me like a train to the stomach when Rache finally said the word: “cancer.”
That evening, I wrote my dearest friend:
I feel like I lost my mom several years ago, so I didn’t think it was possible to feel greater sorrow on that front. But hearing that physical death may also be imminent, it’s clear there are degrees of loss. Intellectually, I understand that there’s very little hope my mom as she existed while I grew up could be regained. Apparently, though, my heart has been holding onto hope that there might be some movement that direction. With physical death, what once was and what is now are all wrapped up neatly and concluded, with no chance of semi-happy endings.
When my mom’s diagnosis was confirmed, I was devastated. For years, I had hoped, and that hope had been destroyed by a single word spoken in a single second.
I thought and thought, and I fought with myself over what was and wasn’t reasonable in light of my mom’s diagnosis.
I’d trained myself to hope. I couldn’t not hope. So what, then, could I hope for?
I hoped that my mom would live long enough to meet her first grandchild, with whom I was seven months pregnant. It was a hope replete with moments of agony and frustration that I should be limited to such a small and fleeting hope, but I clung to it. I needed it to sustain me.
My son was born. Tickets home were purchased. My mom held her grandson.
She hated how she looked, but I saw only the love.
After my mom met my son, I invested my hope in the possibility of my mom’s recovery. And yet, there came a time where it was clear that hope would not be translated to truth.
I hoped my mom would get to see my son again, but I was struggling. It was easier to tell myself to hope than to actually tend to its tiny embers and set them full aflame again.
My mom did see my son again. He brought her great joy through suffering written so clearly on her face that I couldn’t help but feel its echoes, and despair.
He brought her so much joy that, occasionally, she’d grit her teeth and try climbing unsteadily from her bed, saying, “I will survive. I will live and see him grow up. I will meet my other grandkids.”
I would smile at her and try to calm her enough to get her back in bed, and then retreat to the cold bedroom down the hall and cry, and cry, and cry.
I didn’t know what to hope, but I knew better than to share that fleeting, wild hope of hers.
A week after the last time she told me this, I wrote my friends a letter that began:
At 2:35pm yesterday, my mother breathed her last breath in the loving arms of my sisters.
The letter described many things that brought me joy, and great love for those who’d helped me through the last months of my mom’s life. What it didn’t describe was hope, for I felt hopeless, even as I wrapped up that letter thusly:
Next October 30, I will celebrate alone the birthday I shared with my mother. But she’ll be in my heart, and the gifts she bestowed upon me will carry her spirit forward in my every action, every day.
At my mom’s memorial, I caught sight of my son sleeping and felt the slightest stirrings of hope.
My mom’s final chapter had been written, but my tiny man’s life had so many chapters remaining. Imagining those chapters filled me with joy that couldn’t be touched by words, and kindled those stirrings so they began to take on their own vibrance.
As I worked with my siblings to clean out my mom’s house, I thought about all the chapters remaining my son. I saw that I, too, had many chapters left in my own life.
I chose hope. Even as I bawled, and cursed, and listened to music I hated to know my mom would never hear again, I chose to believe that there was good ahead.
I would edit one of my books. I would nurture my son’s passions. I would lend a hand to others as often as I could. I would focus not on what had been taken away from me, and the inevitability that still more would be taken away from me with time, but on all the possibilities left open to me, my son, and my loved ones. They were so, so many.
In August 2009, I believed hope was lost. In August 2012, I see that hope was simply hiding then. She was clenched tightly to herself, nestled deep within me, keeping herself safe until once again free to expand to fill me.
Hope has since unfurled and stretched herself into every piece of my life. Sometimes she retreats, but I know she will find her way back to me, and I to her. She needs me to give her my voice in this world; I need her to remember why I have a voice, and how to use it.
Hope was never lost to me. She just needed to be freed from the constraint of being tied to one place, to one situation, or to one person; for, indeed, she thrives best of all when her feet are untethered and she is allowed to wander as free and far as the human imagination extends.
Instructions for Hope 2012: A blog relay
Step 1: Write a blog post about hope & publish it on your blog.
Step 2: Invite one (or more!) bloggers to do the same.
Step 3: Link to the person who recruited you at the top of the post, and the people you’re recruiting at the bottom of the post.
Melanie Crutchfield will be holding “Closing Ceremonies” around August 10 and will gather up little snippets from people that wrote about hope, so make sure you link back to her as the originator of the relay
I call on:
“People are like stained glass windows; they sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light within.”
– Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
Many years ago, my brother asked me to picture a mutual friend of ours.
After I had her image firmly in mind, David asked, “Do you see her scars?”
I did not. Her face had seemed perfectly reconstructed in my mind before he asked; in light of his question, I felt ashamed, as if I’d been caught in the act of surreptitiously editing a work not my own.
My brother’s take was different. “You don’t picture it for the same reason you don’t really see it when you’re with her. It’s irrelevant. Her beauty shines from within, not from the specific arrangement of features on her face.”
The conversation was much more extensive than this, and my brother’s overall approach much more nuanced, but this is the part that has stuck with me. It was the part on my mind after I shaved my head for St. Baldrick’s last month.
I expected to be a wreck during the actual shaving. I also expected to be mildly chagrined by how baldness emphasized my already prominent forehead. What I didn’t expect was that I’d feel more beautiful than I ever had before.
I also didn’t expect the staring.
The day after I shaved my head, I caught a couple dozen—yes, a couple dozen—adults staring at me with eyes wide and mouths agape. I felt confident and gorgeous with my newly fuzzy head, so it was easy for me to smile back at strangers even while my discomfiture grew.
I wondered: What if I had lost my hair to cancer treatments? What if I were struggling to feel beautiful and strong in the face of the fight of my life? A fight for my life?
My stomach knotted at these thoughts, yet despite my initial chagrin, I quickly stopped noticing the stares. I even forgot that I’d shaved my head. A neighbor asked, “What did you do?!” following which I launched into an explanation about how she’d heard my son, Li’l D, screaming because I’d forced him to get off the elevator. (The nerve!)
My neighbor gestured to my hair and said, “I mean, to your hair!”
I laughed and said I’d had it shaved for a charity. With her hand to her heart, my neighbor said, “Thank God. I thought you were going through chemo.”
Once in a while, though, someone’s attention is so obvious it’s impossible not to notice. In these cases, I’ve continued my strategy of simply smiling back, an astonishingly effective means to get someone to stop staring.
Out to get lunch in the middle of a recent workday, I caught a woman staring at me with a mixture of sadness, dismay and pity so blatant, it totally disarmed me.
After a moment, I smiled at her and she looked away. For about two seconds. She then resumed staring, looking away again for only as long as I gazed and smiled directly at her.
The scenario played through my head for hours afterward. I wished I’d piped up, as recommended by blogger Counting Caballeros, “Thank you for staring. I shaved my head to raise awareness for childhood cancer, and since I obviously have your undivided attention, would you like your donation to pediatric cancer research to be cash, check, or charge?”
I don’t know what it’s like to fight cancer firsthand. I don’t know what that encounter would have felt like if I were fighting cancer right now. All I have is my imagination, and in my imagination, the feeling was horrible.
The feeling wasn’t about the hair. It was about what hair, or the lack of it, seemed to automatically represent: the presence of illness. The reminder of human mortality.
I felt an invisible wall of “otherness” being built around me as I recalled the emotions reflected in that stare, and those I witnessed right after I shaved my head.
I wondered: Would I be so different if I were fighting cancer? Would I somehow be less human, or less worthy of the common courtesies afforded someone with a full head of hair? Or would I still be me, Deb, just trying to enjoy a bite of lunch without being reminded that I’m not only fighting cancer but that I’m also now set apart in the eyes of those around me?
I can’t go back in time. I can’t redo that lunchtime encounter. But the next time I experience this, I’m going to say something. I don’t know what, exactly, or if it will be inspired by the above recommendation from Counting Caballeros, but something. Something that reminds others that I am human. That we are all human, whether tall or short, skinny or round, black or white, bald or hairy, fighting cancer or cancer-free.
And now, here, I’m going to ask you to say something if you find yourself caught in the act of staring. If you’re curious, or concerned, or just want to say, “I’m sorry, but you’re so radiant, it’s impossible to look elsewhere,” please do. Say hi. Embrace the awkwardness, for words like these connect even as they potentially embarrass us. Instead of building invisible walls between people, they are part of our building bridges of understanding.
I’m glad my neighbor asked what happened to my hair. Her words opened a dialog that brightened my day. In both asking and the way she asked, I felt that no answer I gave would’ve scared her or inspired her to treat me differently, apart from perhaps to share words of support.
If the thought of talking to a stranger terrifies you, consider offering a smile. The power of a smile is enormous.
It’s that smile that shows the light within, and all those beautiful lights within reflected outward that brighten the world for all.
© 2012 Deborah Bryan. All rights reserved.
Duplication in whole or substantial portion is explicitly forbidden.
Lisa (Insignificant at Best) is much more significant to many than her blog’s title suggests. A mom, a tireless worker, and an aspiring writer, she wears many proverbial hats but has ample energy left over for her blog’s readers–and for giveaways, of which she is quite the maestra! All of this aside, she’ll ever hold a special place in my heart for being the first person to interview me as an author.
Recommended post: A letter to someone who has hurt you recently
The Strongest Woman I Know
My grandmother, whom I’ve always called Gran, is one of my heroes. All of five feet and maybe 90 pounds soaking wet, she is the matriarch of our family and the strongest woman I know. When my grandmother says something, you don’t argue, you do it; the whole family knows that.
When my parents divorced, my mom and I moved in with my grandparents and Gran became a second mom to me. When my mom was at work or on the rare occasion she went on a date (she normally left that for when I was with my dad), my Gran was there to watch over me. Sadly, I didn’t appreciate it at the time because we are both stubborn and would often fight. However, I look back now and cherish the memories I made while living with her and my grandfather.
I can still clearly remember the day I found out this woman I love and cherish so much had lung cancer. I was about four months pregnant and standing in front of the dryer in the laundry room when my mom broke the news. She told me not to panic, but try and tell a hormonal woman that. I remember hunching over the dryer silently crying after I hung up the phone. All I could think of was that my Papa (what I called my late grandfather) was already gone and wouldn’t get to know my unborn child and now possibly my Gran, too. It seemed so unfair that my baby wouldn’t be able to get to know two of the most important people in my life. I cried for a while after that phone call, but once I was done I pulled myself together and tried to be strong for Gran.
About a month or so later, she was admitted into the hospital so they could try removing the tumor. I will never, ever forget sitting there with my mom, my aunts and my uncles and hearing the doctor tell us that he didn’t think the surgery would be a success. (I still get teary eyed when I think about it.) He told us that from the looks of the scans, the tumor was in a spot that would be very hard to reach. He said that he might be able to remove some of the tumor, but doubted he’d be able to get all of it. The sadness in his voice was apparent and it broke my heart.
We were told we could go and see her once last time before she went into surgery.
I don’t know how I managed it, but I walked into pre-op and told my Gran good luck and that I loved her. I held it together, but just barely. I wasn’t even able to stick around until everyone wished her luck. I waddled as fast as I could out of post-op, through the waiting room and outside door. The moment I knew I was alone I broke; it literally felt as if my heart was going to break into a million pieces.
Finally I managed to collect myself and went to the one place I knew I’d find comfort; the hospital chapel. I sat there, eventually joined by my great uncle (Gran’s brother), for about two hours. I stayed until the baby would let me no longer; it (I didn’t know the sex at that point) was hungry and I needed to eat.
My aunt and I went and grabbed something in the cafeteria and the returned to the waiting room to see if there was any news. It wasn’t long before the nurse at the waiting room desk called out for my grandmother’s family; you could hear the panic in our voices as we told her that was us. She quickly explained there was no need to worry, but that one of the nurses in my grandmother’s operating room had called down at her doctor’s request. He had wanted to let us know that despite is worries he was able to get the entire tumor.
The surgery was a success.
The doctor was just putting her tube in and closing her up and he’d be down to talk to us. He just hadn’t wanted us to wait any longer to hear the good news. Can I just say, best doctor ever? I’ve never heard of a surgeon having someone call down to the waiting room like that and when we finally got to talk to him in person we couldn’t thank him enough for it.
It turns out that while the surgery was a huge success, my grandmother did have to have a third of her right lung removed. He told us this meant she would probably have to be on oxygen for the rest of her life and that she would have to go through chemo to make sure that she was completely cancer free. To us, though this news was nothing; she was likely going to make it and that’s all that mattered.
Little did we know that some of the worst was yet to come.
That afternoon we saw Gran and she looked great and even said she felt pretty good. I left the hospital with a promise to see her as soon as she was released (she made me promise not to come back because she didn’t want me pregnant and around all the hospital germs…gotta love her). I was emotionally exhausted, but elated; all in all the day went perfectly.
She got out of the hospital a few days later and that’s when things took a turn for the worse. My mom had offered to stay with her for the first week or so, after recovery, because nobody wanted Gran to be alone. When I wasn’t visiting I was calling to check up on Gran and each report started to worry me more and more.
My grandmother doesn’t like water, she’s always been a diet pop or crystal light drinker. Unfortunately, part of her recovery was to drink so much water a day and this was not going well. My mom could hardly get her to drink one glass, let alone the two quarts she was supposed to be drinking. It’s not like she was drinking other things, either. She just wouldn’t drink.
Then came food. She was periodically throwing up and said everything tasted funny so she’s barely eat all day. Gran started to rapidly lose weight right before our eyes. Not to mention she was maybe getting 1 to 3 hours of sleep a day. In fact it got so bad, about 4 or 5 days after returning home she was back in the hospital; where they kept her for a day or two and then sent her back home.
This is when things got their worst.
My grandmother was now home and back to her non-water drinking and eating ways. Not to mention she had started to say things that were very much unlike the woman we know and love. My mom was a wreck and so were the rest of us. In fact it got so bad that my grandmother said some very hurtful things to my mom and kicked her out, for no reason. Devastated, my mom packed up and went back home.
Nobody was comfortable with her being alone, but we had no choice. I still remember the day we had called to check up on her and got no response. I called my mom to see how Gran was doing since she didn’t answer my two phone calls and she informed me that Gran hadn’t answered her calls either. Since it was about three in the afternoon and we hadn’t been able to get a hold of her all day we started to panic. Since I lived closest my mom asked me to go over there and check up on her and I agreed. I called a few more times as I was heading over there and still no response. I don’t even want to tell you the thoughts that were running through my head.
When I arrived, I called out to her and got no response. I climbed the stairs (her condo has a first floor foyer and the rest of it is on the second floor) and made my way through each room until I found her in her bedroom. I crept up to the bed quietly and made sure she was breathing; to my relief, she was. I started to walk out and her head popped up. She questioned what I was doing and I just explained that we hadn’t been able to get a hold of her and we were worried. She told me she had been sleeping and that was it. I honestly thought she was going to yell at me for being there, but thankfully she didn’t. I apologized for interrupting her and let myself out.
I remember sitting in my car wondering when something was going to give. Did we over react by my coming here? Maybe. However, Gran was acting weirder and weirder by the day and she still wasn’t eating or drinking. Her weight had dropped into the 70’s; she was wasting away to nothing. Christmas was drawing very close at this point and I remember thinking all I wanted was for her to get better.
About a week later, give or take a day, I got a phone call from my mom telling me that Gran was back in the hospital. We were all concerned and hoping the doctors could figure out a way to help her; but as it turns out she helped herself. I got a call from my mom a day or two after Gran had been then admitted, telling me they figured out what the problem was. As it turned out “they” meant Gran. Turns out my grandmother started paying attention to when she was throwing up (this never stopped from the first time she came home from the hospital). Because of some other medication they had given her the previous night they had refrained from giving her another that she had been taking since the surgery. That evening she had no problems and even ate something. The next morning they gave her that medication and within a few hours she was getting sick. She explained her theory to the nurse and then her doctor, but neither wanted to believe it at first; likely because they were too stupid to figure it out on their own (to clarify this doctor was not the same awesome surgeon from earlier in the story). Being the spitfire she is, my grandmother fought to make them listen and got her medicine changed.
Once the problem was identified, my aunt, who is a nurse, looked up the troublesome medication Gran had been on. It turns out throwing up was just one of a few symptoms she was having. She was always complaining of a metallic taste in her mouth, which was caused by the pill. Not to mention this medication was known for causing strange/aggressive/uncharacteristic behavior in some people. With the change of her pill, all of this quickly went away. To this day we don’t even know if my grandmother remembers what she said or how she treated us (why upset her over something that wasn’t in her control?).
A day after her medication was changed my grandmother came home … for good. It was a slow and steady road to recovery after that. Her disposition went back to normal, she started drinking more, and eating more too. Sadly, she wasn’t up for spending Christmas with the family that year, but that was a sacrifice all of us were more than willing to make. We were just so glad she was going to be okay!
It’s been five years now since Gran’s surgery and about four since she was officially declared “cancer free”. Despite the fact that they told us she would likely have to use oxygen, she hasn’t needed it for even one day. She has never been able to gain all of her weight back, but hovers around the high 80’s (way better than low 70’s) and tends to get sick easier than she used to (to be expected when you’re older and missing part of your lung). However, she is still as feisty and vibrant as ever!
My daughter will be five this March and Gran has become a big part of her life. Every Thursday my mom picks up the kid (she works a 4 day work week and this is her day off) and heads over to Gran’s, where they spend the day. Not to mention the kid has spent many a weekday with Gran when my mother-in-law can’t watch her and there are times she has spent the night with her too. I can’t even begin to tell you how much it means to me that Gran is a part of my child’s life. I cherish the fact I am blessed enough to watch my daughter and Gran form a bond. To say that Gran adores her great-grand child is an understatement. I thought my cousins and I were doted on and spoiled when we were kids…we’ve got nothing on my daughter. She’s got her Great-Gran wrapped around her tiny finger and her Great-Gran loves every minute of it! It truly is a joy to see.
My grandmother once told me that before she went into surgery she had made peace with dying. I asked her why and she told me that she honestly thought she was going to make it through. She said she was surprised to wake up and find out that she was going to be okay. Well, she might have been surprised, but I’m not. My Gran is one probably the strongest and bravest woman I know. There was no way she was going down without a knock down drag out fight and a knock down drag out fight she had.
Gran 1. Lung Cancer 0.
This post was written in honor of my Gran, whom I love like a second mother. She is my hero and a true inspiration to me and my family. I love you, Gran.
Special thanks to the wonderful Deb for letting me tell her story. It felt good to finally get it all down on paper.
Also, thanks to all of you who stuck with this super long post and read the entire thing! I appreciate it!
As I type this, I have nearly 100% less hair than I did the last time I posted.
My progression toward baldness began with reading the post “Blissfully Bald,” in which my friend Chris (From the Bungalow) announced that he and his wife, Karin (Pinwheels and Poppies), would be shaving their heads for St. Baldrick’s. Their inspiration, Donna’s Cancer Story, chronicled one girl’s 31-month battle with cancer.
I’d seen references to Donna’s Cancer Story since September, but it seemed like such a commitment to follow a 31-day blog series. Also, really depressing. I couldn’t imagine a more depressing read.
After reading “Blissfully Bald,” I knew I’d have to read Donna’s Cancer Story. That Friday evening, I settled in and began reading about Donna.
I cried. Oh, how I cried. But I also felt barriers between me and others removed by growing understanding. Through Mary Tyler Mom‘s open, raw descriptions of her daughter Donna’s life with cancer, “them” became “us.” “Those parents” became “someone who could be me”; the children, “someone who could be my son.”
My world grew simultaneously smaller and larger.
As a writer, I (naturally) had to write my way toward clarity. I did so in my post “On bald heads & being unending.” I let people know where they could donate to team Blissfully Bald.
On Valentine’s Day, following a prompt from Chris, I joined an abundance of bloggers in writing about the March head-shaving event in which Chris and Karin would be shaving their heads. I knew I’d be in Chicago for the event, as well as to catch up with my old friend Dana, but I had no idea I’d end up joining team Blissfully Bald.
On March 11, Chris sent an email including the following paragraph:
I just wanted to mention that anyone can join our team or Team Donna! If you are/will be in the Chicago area on March 24th, we’d love to see you. And if you decided to join our team as a shavee, well, we’d love you forever.
“Damn it, Chris,” I muttered.
Once thoughts like that get in my brain, it’s hard to make them go away. Typically they’ll only do so if I do something like sign up. Which I did the next day.
I’d like to say mine was a really considered choice, but it wasn’t. There were little fragments of thoughts here and there, but mostly it was a gut choice inspired by a girl named Donna who’s been in my mind and heart every day since I read her cancer story over a 12-hour period.
I wrote about my decision to join team Blissfully Bald here. It still didn’t feel like a huge decision, exactly. Just something I was doing.
Then I started reading the comments, both on the blog and on my Facebook page. I learned about more people who’d fought or continue to fight cancer and was bowled over. What started as “something I’d be doing for Donna in a few days” became something all-consuming. Something that I felt bound me so much more powerfully to this world, and to the hearts of others. Beautiful, inspired, inspiring hearts.
The days flew by. I found myself in Chicago. I was a little nervous, but a lot excited.
I got to meet Katy (I Want a Dumpster Baby), whom I instantly loved every bit as much as I thought I would.
By the time we parted ways, I felt like I’d known her forever. Indeed, my heart continues to insist it has.
That evening, I met my teammates. Like Katy, I loved (and laughed with!) them immediately, and couldn’t believe for a second we’d only just met.
By the time Chris and Karin collected me the next morning, I was feeling anything but collected. I’d had a rough night’s sleep, imagining everything that could go wrong the next day and fearing what I couldn’t imagine–in other words, everything about the event.
As we ate lunch just before the event, my anxiety had a direct line to my bladder, which it used to send me scrambling to the bathroom four times in an hour and a half.
Arriving at the event venue, the very place where Donna had celebrated each of her birthdays, I found my nerves instantly soothed. I looked into the faces of others who’d soon be shaving their heads as well as those cheering the shavees on and knew I was safe. I couldn’t imagine anything bad happening, but I knew I’d be fine if it did.
We met Mary Tyler Mom. I wanted to crush her with hugs and tell her how much she’d changed my life with her words, but instead simply hugged her.
We chatted. We schmoozed. We checked out the haps. We hugged Katy lots when she arrived.
Chris was one of the first to get his head shaved.
Karin followed soon after.
My slot was an hour and a half after Karin’s. I was impatient for its arrival, but needn’t have been. It came quickly.
What I’d built up in my head to a momentous, earth-shattering thing was instead quick. Painless. Hardly noteworthy.
My hair was divided into four ponytails I’ll (hopefully) donate to Locks of Love.
Each ponytail was clipped.
My hair was cut.
My head was shaved.
I beamed the whole time. Just beamed.
When I stood in front of a bathroom mirror a couple of minutes later and took in the change, impossibly, I found myself smiling wider still.
I was seeing me. Me unconcealed.
By the time my friend Dana arrived, fresh in from Ireland, I must’ve rubbed my head 100 times already.
Dana returned my sock puppet Arrrgyle, who’d visited Ireland with her for reasons described here, but demanded a picture in exchange.
Dana, her honey and I left the Candlelite shortly afterward, but we had time for a few more pictures first.
By the time I returned to my hotel around 8 p.m., full up on Indian food, I was equal parts exhausted and happy.
I’d started out the day so anxious I was shaking, only to conclude the day so calm I could’ve given 90% of my calm away and still been feeling just dandy.
In the morning it had seemed like such a huge thing to be shaving off my hair, not just for me but for the people whose loved ones’ names I held in my hands (on a couple pieces of paper) and heart throughout the day.
By the evening, it seemed such a small offering. A token, or one-tenth of one, especially in comparison to all those who’ve lost their hair in the hopes that doing so would allow them to only lose their hair.
My baldness pales by compare, but I hope that someone, somewhere, someday will know greater health because of my small step toward conquering cancer. I wish everyone, everywhere could know that health now, but that’s outside the power of any one individual. Real progress will be in the accumulation of all our small steps, one added to the other added to the other.
My steps were small, but in the right direction, and taken with arms linked through those of so many other steppers, each of whose steps take might different forms, but all of whose steps leads us toward a brighter world less full of needless loss.
It’s thinking of all those steps we’re taking together, with arms and hearts linked, that I leave Chicago not only bald, but blissfully bald.
- Read Karin’s account at My Tale of Baldness, Bliss, Magic, and Cheese Sandwiches.
© 2012 Deborah Bryan. All rights reserved.
Duplication in whole or substantial portion is explicitly forbidden.
* Read the follow-up to this post here.
I’ll be bald in eleven days.
There was a time I swore I’d never have hair shorter than chin length again. At 18, I’d made the unfortunate mistake of dozing off at the hands of a new stylist, who thought I’d look just fabulous with one-inch hair.
Despite my old vow, I choose baldness now.
I do this to stand in solidarity with children who do not choose baldness, or cancer, but face these things determinedly nevertheless. On March 24, 2012, I’ll join my friends Chris and Karin in having my head shaved for St. Baldrick’s children’s cancer charity.
I love my hair. Don’t get me wrong. I’m going to miss it while it’s gone. But there’s a heckuva lot I love even more in this world.
As I learned at 18, hair grows back. People do not, so I feel honored to do this one small thing I can to help some young people battling cancer stay here in this world, and illuminate it longer with their own unique and beautiful gifts.
If you’re able to donate, please do so here or via team Blissfully Bald. If you’re donating or wish you could donate in someone’s honor or memory, please tell me a little bit about them in comment here so I may share your words in a future blog entry. I believe it is a blessing to the living to remember our departed beloved.
If you are inspired to share this blog, please know now that I am deeply grateful.
Am I a little nervous about my impending months without much hair? Sure. But right now, my hair will do much better off my head than on it. I live in Los Angeles, for Pete’s sake! I don’t need hair to keep my head warm here. Not even in March.
And if I do end up needing a little help heating my head? It just so happens I’ve got a hot pink wig lined up for the occasion.
I’ll be happy without the wig, though. ‘Cause you know what? Beautiful is beautiful, with or without hair. Seeing my mom without her hair taught me that.
Gorgeous, spirited Donna Quirke Hornik, subject of the series that inspired me to make this choice, helped me see it more clearly still.
I’m gonna be bald. And, man, am I gonna be bald in great company. Present in person, and ever-present in our hearts.
© 2012 Deborah Bryan. All rights reserved.
Duplication in whole or substantial portion is explicitly forbidden.
It took me three minutes to go from shaking my fist at Valentine’s Day to believing there might be some merit in it.
As a kid, I loved Valentine’s Day. How could I resist adult-sanctioned sugar highs? How could anyone?
As an adult, I’ve scoffed (generally quietly) at the idea of designating a day for showing love. I’ve shaken my head at the idea love could ever truly be expressed in a purchased gift or greeting card.
When Chris asked if I’d be interested in writing a Valentine’s Day post for a good cause, I was too busy balking at the words “Valentine’s Day” to hear the “good cause” part of his question. But as the seconds ticked by, my thoughts raced faster and faster toward a surprising conclusion.
Last year, I argued against Mother’s Day detractors on Facebook by stating that none of the gifts I wanted could be bought at a store. I wasn’t celebrating it as a way to get mad loot. I wanted only a morning off and the gift I described here. Besides, I typed furiously, the day wasn’t meant to make up for a year of love not shared or shown. I felt it should be taken as a reminder: Hey! Look! I know you’re busy making ends meet, but slow down and take time out today to love on the moms who light up your life!
Within 180 time-stamped seconds, I realized that my words about celebrating Mother’s Day last year were no less relevant to Valentine’s Day. Regardless of its less than savory origins or its original link to one’s romantic love, I wondered, was there really any reason I couldn’t personally celebrate it as a day of remembering to stop and say “I love you” to all those who brighten my life? That I couldn’t designate it a personal “reminder day” to step outside of time and say, “I may get caught up in my commute, job, blogging, editing, writing, and parenthood, but my love for you is timeless”?
Love needn’t be expressed with boxes of chocolate or greeting cards. It can be expressed in a smile, a hug, a loving word, a song. A day itself can’t tell us what or how to celebrate. It doesn’t demand we show our love on it and it alone.
That’s a human choice. We choose how we show our loved ones that our lives are better for them, on Valentine’s Day or any other day of the year.
Today I change my stance on Valentine’s Day. I do so thanks to the innocent question of a friend who asked if I’d consider posting about a little girl named Donna, about whom I previously wrote here.
Donna celebrated her last Valentine’s Day in 2009. In October 2009, she died of cancer.
But here’s the thing: for her four years, she lived. She lived with joy, bravery and panache that continues to inspire thousands of people who never met her face to face.
I admire not only Donna, but also her mom, Mary Tyler Mom, who lived through 31 months of her daughter’s cancer treatment . . . and then relived it through Donna’s Cancer Story so others could see for themselves the brilliance of her daughter’s spirit.
Does my admiration stop there? Not by a long shot. I admire and applaud all those who watch their amazing little lights shine on in the face of cancer, and those who work tirelessly to see those lights endure for many decades yet.
I wonder what it would be like to kiss my son goodnight every night, not knowing if I will ever get the chance to kiss him again. Wondering alone makes me wish a million times over I could take away illness and grant life.
That’s outside of my power. What’s within my power is helping Donna’s light shine by telling you about her courage and exuberance. By telling you about the countless lights holding strong in hope for a cure, and about what you can do to help some of their parents know the joy of many more years of bedtime kisses and dance recitals.
From St. Baldrick’s, here are some of those ways:
How can you help conquer kids’ cancer?
1. Donate now to fund lifesaving research
2. Sign up as a shavee or volunteer at an event near you. (Once you find an event, click on the blue box that says “participate at this event.” If you want to join the Donna’s Good Things team, click here.)
3. Can’t find an event near you? Organize your own event. The St. Baldrick’s Foundation will coach you every step of the way. In particular, they are looking for new events in Maine, Mississippi, Alabama and Utah.
I will match up to $250 of total donations made by you to the Donna’s Good Things team. If you donate, please forward me a copy of your receipt (sans personal info!) so that I know how much to match. If you’re donating in someone’s honor or memory, please let me know in a few sentences whose honor/memory so that I may help their light shine in a follow-up post.
Donna lives on in her family members’ hearts, my heart, and in thousands of other hearts that see the beauty of baldness in a way they might not have without Donna. For her parents and those who knew and loved her day to day while she still danced through this world, the dazzling breadth of her impact cannot possibly replace the loss of her light here.
Yet she is remembered with love, and her memory is a blessing to many children who might live longer because of her. And you.
Let’s make that count, on Valentine’s Day and every day. Together.
P.S. Karin of Pinwheels and Poppies, Chris of From the Bungalow, Katy of I Want a Dumpster Baby and Lisha of The Lucky Mom are also blogging for Donna today, along with several others! Be sure to visit Donna’s Good Things on Facebook to find all of the posts. Happy Donna Day!
Duplication in whole or substantial portion is explicitly forbidden.
Although this post begins with a tragedy, it is a post about hope.
I was thrift store hopping in 2003 when I missed a call from a girlfriend. Stepping out from the thrift store I’d been shopping at, I dialed my voicemail access number. I knew something was wrong when my new voicemail began not with “Hi, Debbie!” but “Oh, Deb.”
Only a handful of seconds later, I sank to the sidewalk and thought, “No. No, this is a terrible joke. This can’t have happened.”
But it had.
Months later, I continued to struggle with how suddenly lives could be ended. I found solace only in my long nighttime runs, during which my thoughts ran even further and wider than my legs.
One evening shortly before the 2004 marathon that would be my first, I noticed a car passing by me slowly and repeatedly. I started getting anxious about how dark it was, how long it had been since I’d seen another person, how if someone managed to get me into their car, there’d be no one around to notice.
I ran in the direction of the nearest police station and I prayed. The car fell away, eventually, but the adrenaline didn’t.
I wondered about what would have happened if the ending there had been different. Would my friends remember me for all the happy memories we shared, or would they remember only how my life ended?
The thought horrified me. As I wept while running homeward, I thought over and over again: We are so much more than the ways that we end.
Afterward, I endeavored to remember those who had died not for how their lives concluded, but for who they were while they lived. For their lives.
And yet, when my friend Karin began daily posting links to a blog series about a young girl’s struggle with cancer, I thought, “Gah, why would I want to read so extensively about a girl’s death?”
It was only when I read Karin’s husband Chris’s Freshly Pressed entry about why they are going “Blissfully Bald” that I understood just how much I had misunderstood. This wasn’t a story about a girl’s death to cancer.
It was a story about a girl’s life.
As I read Chris’s post, I knew I’d have to read Donna’s Cancer Story. If her life story had moved him so, so very much that this post flowed from its reading, I had to experience it myself.
Friday evening, I started reading her story.
Saturday morning, vision blurred from crying, I finished reading it.
Notice what I did there? I didn’t say I finished the story. I said “I finished reading it.”
That’s because Donna lives on in the things we do to remember her.
On March 24, my dear friends Chris and Karin, subjects of my first stick figure animation, will shave their heads to raise money for St. Baldrick’s. I’ve donated, which you can do via the “Blissfully Bald” link below. I’ve tweeted. I’ve posted it on Facebook. Now, I must share their fundraising efforts here, in the place I’m freest to explain everything they mean to me.
It’s been almost two years since my mom died of cancer. I remember daily the strength I feigned to cover the helplessness of watching her fade.
I remember deciding to run a half-marathon to raise money in her memory. It wouldn’t bring her back, but it was something I could do.
When you’re watching cancer steal away someone you love, there is painfully, wretchedly little you can do.
In running, I found a way to look forward instead of backward. I couldn’t bring my mom back, but I could take very literal steps toward ensuring someone else’s life didn’t end the same way.
So I ran, with my siblings, for Mom. When we were done, we placed our congratulatory roses on her headstone, and I felt a fluttering of peace. It faded quickly, but feeling it made me know it was a beginning. It was another step in the right direction.
This afternoon, as I drove home from brunch with girlfriends, I marveled at how deeply interconnected are things and lives whose connections we can’t always see: a pediatric cancer charity, a dojo, my mom, a scary encounter running, a pair of Michigan bloggers, and a little girl who filled the world with so much brilliance in the four years she was given to do so.
I thought about the 21-year-old woman the memory of whom inspired the memorial scholarship that enabled me to finish law school. I recently sent a note, via the law school, to let her family know that she continues to inspire me, although I never met her.
I remain grateful to this woman, and the family whose steps to remember her so tangibly impacted me. My life would not be what it is today but for her blessed memory.
Our bodies will cease. That is inevitable. But we will live on in the hearts of those who shared the journey with us, and whose lives we touched with our actions. In the hope that we helped build through these actions.
It’s thus I leave you with the words I shared on Facebook right after finishing reading Donna’s Cancer Story:
Last night I started reading Mary Tyler Mom‘s blog series “Donna’s Cancer Story.” This morning, through tears so abundant it was hard to see, I finished it.
I hope you’ll consider reading the series yourself, someday if not today. But if you don’t think you can read the whole thing, I’d recommend you read this last entry. It’s full of thoughts about what you can do to help Donna live on in the good things you do today.
If you are able to donate to From the Bungalow‘s team “Blissfully Bald,” that’s one thing. There are many more that don’t cost a thing but will help make life easier or brighter for someone else. Check out Donna’s Good Things for more on this, even if you don’t read this entry or the series.
Like its name suggests, it is full of good things, but there’s always room for more.
After I post this, I’ll greet my little man for the day, and be grateful. And I’ll remember these words, this morning and always, as well as the little girl whose story brought them to me:
“Choose hope. Live until you die.”
In doing so, you’ll live on further still in the memory of those blessed to love and have been loved by you.
Duplication in whole or substantial portion is explicitly forbidden.