You've all seen the movies. The poor woman, sick with cancer, bald from chemo, comes home from the hospital, eyes circled dark, and completely exhausted - only to see a group of her friends and family, standing there - bald. Heads shaved in support of her. This makes her smile and gives her energy to go on with her treatment. Seeing other people bald gives her the will to live.
In a recent movie, a bald teenage cancer patient who wants to go to a prom but is embarrassed by her head watches as her gorgeous mom, Cameron Diaz, shaves her head to encourage her to go, showing her support for her bald daughter. Then they go wig shopping because we know Cameron isn't going to walk around bald for a whole movie. I'm sure it was embarrassment enough that they cast her as the mom of a teen.
Naturally, being a fan of media and pop culture cliches, I've been expecting to come home any day to find friends and family with bald heads, shivering in the cold to support me.
But no. Not a head shaved in my honor.
I'm so depressed.
Does nobody love me?
Okay, my husband gets a pass, since he's already sporting a full head of male pattern baldness. But, what about my 23 year old son, with not only a mass of curly hair but also a beard and mustache? What about his girlfriend - she won't lose her sassy short curls in my honor? What about my 13 year old? Granted, he did cut it from his shoulder to his ears - but is that really enough? My sister still has all her luxurious, curly hair. How dare she? Why, they are practically flaunting all that hair in my face!
A rite of cancer isn't happening for me, and I'm disturbed by that.
Or, am I?
My husband has taken over many of my household chores and has put up with more than he ever expected when he married a young thing like me, 11 years his junior.. My son has to endure his bald mom in scarves picking him up from school everyday, and we know how well middle school kids tolerate differences. I have had to skip an out-of-town contest he was in because of a chemo treatment. He never complains and his grades are still straight As - isn't that support? My oldest picked up my youngest from school daily when I was recovering from surgery and hospitalized - that is support I couldn't have done without. Friends have sent me thoughtful gifts and several meals were delivered. And, I have received wonderful cards and messages of encouragement from all over. It's time to go back to work, and my employer is even going to accommodate my grueling medical schedule, which they don't have to do.
Having any of them be bald wouldn't have made any of these things any better.
If you are considering shaving your head in support of your loved one with cancer, keep this in mind: it won't make chemo go any faster, it won't remove scars, it won't make the cancer patient's hair grow back, and it won't change their prognosis.
In the secret places we cancer patients talk about this kind of thing, the consensus is by most of us that we don't want people shaving their heads to support us. As for me, most of the time, I'm not even thinking about being bald and suddenly seeing my kid's bald head would startle me back into thinking "Oh, yeah, I have cancer."
Personally, I like looking at my older son's lovely curls and his girlfriend's gorgeous cut, and I love watching my teen's hair start to curl softly around the edges. I would be deprived of that.
Not to mention, if I had some sort of bald fetish, I know where to get my jollies: I see a wide assortment of bald heads weekly in the infusion room.
My advice: before you take that cliched step of shaving your head in support of somebody with cancer, think about exactly what kind of support that will really provide. Is it something they will find touching? Are you sure? Or, is it an empty gesture in lieu of actual valuable help they will need, such as meals, phone calls, help with rides, and house cleaning?
If you are certain you want to do this, at least grow you hair out ten inches first, and then donate it to Locks of Love. That shows real support to children with cancer.
Otherwise, my advice is to leave this silly cliche in the movies, and to Cameron Diaz, where it belongs.