One year ago today, I shaved my head to raise money for St. Baldricks, an organization that supports pediatric cancer research. For weeks my family suggested I do it (my mom was the one organizing the event at the school where she teaches) and for weeks I said “No no no!” And I meant it.
Until I watched the younger sister of one of my high school classmates shave her head to support her sister. Her my-age sister who was (and continues to) struggling with cancer. So many kinds of cancer it breaks my heart.
It hit me like a ton of bricks – “I would do this for Charisse.”
And then I thought…
Why not do it for Charisse now?
To honor the fact that she is healthy. To honor the fact that she is well. To honor those who aren’t, so there is hope that they may be.
So I did it. (Funny enough, the single person who freaked out and sobbed and didn’t want me to do it? Charisse.)
It has been a crazy 365 days. Shaving my head taught me so much about so many things. Here are just a few, because what I really learned in my heart I cannot articulate.
I am and was brave.
I remember in high school I said “I’ll never get my belly button pierced and I’ll never wear contacts.” I did both. I was so fearful of the pain (my belly button) and of touching my eyes (contacts). But I did it and I got so used to those things. Shaving my head felt so much scarier though. I could quit wearing contacts if it bothered me and if I didn’t like the piercing, I could just take it out. But shaving your head? That takes a long time to undo.In fact, it didn’t feel brave. (I wrote about it here if you’re interested.) I felt oddly detached, calm, unemotional, etc. when I was doing it. And afterward I had the adrenaline of disbelief to carry me through. But then it wore off and I was faced with the stone-cold reality of being bald. And I had to go out, every day, in a job that requires me to interact with people all day, every day. I had to deal with funny looks (and judgmental looks, but see below for that!). I learned to tough it out, to give grace, and that ultimately — it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be because I had a whole lot more courage than I ever imagined I possessed. I realized that I was indeed brave for daring to do it, even if I felt calm and collected during the actual doing.
I love long hair.
By long, I mean to my shoulders. I have zero regrets about cutting my hair (not even when it went through this ridiculous phase where it would stick straight up in the back in the mornings!) and I love that other people, like my mama, can rock the short hair. Me? Not so much. I miss ponytails and braids and buns. I miss straightening my hair for special events and curling it even more than it’s curled naturally (thank you, Jesus, for letting it come back with its original curl!). Every day, people tell me “Your hair is so cute!” and “Your hair is so long!” It doesn’t feel that way to me, but I know that it is cute now that I can style it and it is surprisingly long for the year that it’s been growing. I am at the point where I need regular trims and haircuts to keep my hair healthy (and if I’m being honest, the thought of cutting my hair to keep it healthy enough to grow long again makes me freak out a little on the inside), but I’m aiming for another five-six inches my this time next year. I can already put in a little ponytail. Now I’m aiming for the whole shebang!
People can be rude.
I got asked a lot of questions by people. Sometimes people were tactful. 95.3% of the time people were not. What drove me crazy about this is that the people asking the questions were not close friends. They were people I knew in passing. To quote from a blog post I wrote last year: “I’ve gotten funny looks from people – on Saturday, a woman walked past me twice at Target, blatantly staring while I talked to a friend in the aisle. Others have assumed I’m sick and have asked me outright. And last night at church someone said ‘So what happened to your hair?’ very boldly. Others still think I’m making a statement about my sexuality.” These looks and questions didn’t stop in the first few weeks. I had people coming up to me for months saying things like that and looking looks like that. One lady said to me at Coffee Bean “I love the statement you’re making.” Even though she said it to be kind and supportive, I kinda wanted to punch her in the throat. I wasn’t making a statement, aside from the fact that CANCER SUCKS and cancer in kids ESPECIALLY SUCKS. It wasn’t a political statement. It wasn’t a social statement. It was a shaved head. The end. I felt like people were asking questions they weren’t prepared to hear answered truthfully – I had the crazy strong urge to answer bold questions like “Are you ok?” with “No, I’m not, actually. I have stage four [fill in the blank] cancer and the doctors only think I have about six months to live. I’ve been in chemo for a few weeks now to prolong my life and my hair just started falling out.” I mean, for the love. You should not ask those kind of questions to people you don’t know well!
People can be awesome.
Some people tactfully asked me, or asked me in a funny way, about my hair. They didn’t act like I was sick or weird or crazy. And I so appreciated them for it. My favorite was the groom from the wedding I was coordinating the day after the shaving. He looked at me from across the room the night of the rehearsal and said, “Hey, Krista? Didn’t you have more hair the last time we met?” For every person who rubbed my head (weird, but ok, I lived through it), for every person who joked, and for every person who got teary-eyed and told me their story of their cancer survival or of someone in their family who was battling cancer or who had lived or died with cancer, I felt like I could handle the rude questions and judgmental stares because they reminded me why I did it in the first place.
It’s just hair!
One of the things people asked me the most was something along the lines of “Don’t you miss your hair?” My answer was so hard to articulate. Of course I missed my longer hair, but I had no regrets shaving it in the first place. I’ve thankfully had the same person cut my hair since I was 20 years old (except for one haircut while she was on maternity leave with her second baby, and the girl who cut my hair was the person who my stylist recommended!), and I have had all good haircuts. Some of been too short for me to repeat, but she’s never led me wrong, and as we always talked about when getting my hair done — it’s just hair! It grows back! I’ve truly lived that out during the last 12 months It is just hair! It does grow back! It’s short and funky and can be really annoying and frustrating in the growing out process, but it does grow back.