Emily, who just turned 30, learned she had stage 3a infiltrating ductal carcinoma breast cancer in early 2021. Her treatment includes chemotherapy, breast surgery and radiation therapy. In her words, here is her story.
I was not that worried about losing my hair. It is temporary and it grows back! That was not my biggest concern about having to have chemo. But what I was afraid and upset about was how my children were going to handle it. My husband, Ryan, and I have three daughters—Ava is 11, Ali is 7 and Willow is 3.
Willow cries when I straighten my hair. How would she react when there was no hair there? I was worried that Ali wouldn’t want to be snuggly with me. About a week before I shaved my head, one of Willow’s friends at daycare said to me, “My mommy told me you’re going to look sick.” Out of the mouth of babes! But in all reality, I wasn’t worried for myself as much as I was for my babies. So as the big day approached, I became more nervous.
Shaving my head is something I chose to take control over, so when it came to losing my hair, I took control. I gathered the group of support women I needed and picked a date. Heather, Ryan’s little sister, opened her salon to me, my mother, my mother-in-law, my best friend, Ava and Ryan. A photographer came along to take photos.
I knew even if those pictures showed the worst pain, Ali and Willow, who were home, might want to see them some day. I also hoped that someone would see those photos and feel a bit braver about their own hair loss. I had chemo the morning of the big shave, so I was quite tired and had a headache from hell. We started by parting out and rubber banding the sections of hair I could donate. I do not color my hair and it was long enough that I was able to donate 13 inches to Wigs for Kids. Ava, my mother, my best friend and my mother-in-law all took a turn cutting off a ponytail.
The moment the clippers turned on I felt my strong will to not cry fall away. Ryan started and took a good couple clumps of hair off and then passed the torch to Heather, who finished shaving what was left of my hair. This part is a blur of tears, fears and hugs. We all shared jokes about what a good head shape I had. At the end of it all I was pounds of hair lighter and now a “sick person.”
I know not having hair does not mean you are a sick person, but in all reality, I have looked at a person with no hair and wondered what was “wrong” with them. Now I am in the hot seat. I wanted to add a good advice section here, telling you what to say to your friend who has cancer. But I have nothing. There is nothing right and nothing wrong, but I can say, do not ignore it. Your friend’s feelings will come and go, be up and down, all over, in fact. So just be kind.
Seeing my younger girls was not half as bad as I thought it would be. Ali was very nervous about me not having hair, but a friend gave her a book about a little girl who wondered where her mom’s hair was. Reading that helped start the conversation, and she welcomed me home with a big hug and a nervous smile. But Ali, to this day, has not seen me without a head covering on. She asks constantly when my hair will be making a comeback. Little Willow was asleep when we arrived back home from the salon, so she did not see me until the next morning. She was eating breakfast with Ryan when I came downstairs. I walked in and was greeted with her warm giggly smile. I was so nervous, but then she said, “Mommy, I like your new haircut.”
They’re such innocent souls and they’ve all reacted so differently. Ava wants to know everything and is pretty involved with what I’m going through. Ali is having the most difficult time, she refuses to see me still without a head covering. Willow giggles and tells everyone I have a daddy haircut. It’s important to me to document so many of life’s wonderful moments—even shaving my head. I want the girls to see the love that’s around us, even as sad as this experience is.