I did it.
It just got real.
It is soooooo on.
That quote in the title is from the immortal Telly Savales, one of the world’s most famous bald heads. What did I do, you ask? Let’s talk for a bit. You know that my dear mother-in-law, Wilma is going through chemo treatment for her breast cancer. Stop. Right now go and pray for her. Do it. I will wait.
Now that that’s out of the way (and thank you for the prayers, by the way), let’s talk solidarity. It’s no secret that chemo causes hair loss. As my sister (another breast cancer survivor) said “It’s a sign that the chemo is working.” About a week ago I went to Saturday morning mass with Wilma. Her hair looked fine to me. So I was surprised when she turned to me and casually mentioned “My hair started falling out.” She had just completed her second round of chemo. They come every two weeks. I’m usually very perceptive. That being said, you can imagine my shock when, on Friday afternoon, a mere six days later, she stood in my kitchen wearing a baseball cap. I could see something was different. Without me even asking, she spoke up and said “The last of it came out overnight.” She then removed the cap and revealed a wonderfully perfect scalp.
She’s not a woman prone to fits of vanity. I knew that losing her hair would not bother her. But I could tell that the rapidity with which it fell out took even her by surprise. It was time to put my plan into action. I had already told her I was going to do this. “Listen, I have to take Mrs. Harvey to the airport [going out of town for the weekend] but I’ll text you when I’m done. It’s time…” She nodded and we went our separate ways.
A short while later I sent that text. “MEET ME AT SUPERCUTS?” She had my daughter with her. I knew this would be fun. I was stepping up to have my head shaved. I’ll leave the gory details of the shaving to your imagination. It’s kind of a no-brainer. I sat in a chair and the stylist did her job. What was funny though was my daughter’s reaction. She laughed the whole time. I had been worried that she might be frightened or wouldn’t recognize me; but all was fine on that front. In fact, I was quite please with how my bald scalp looked! I had been a little nervous that my head my have some imperfections (bumps, etc.). Had I been scared to do this, though? Not at all. Here’s why I wasn’t scared and why I did this.
There’s a notion of solidarity that I believe is at the heart of being a Christian. I’m not talking about simply sticking up for someone who’s fallen on hard times. Rather, I think of the fact that Our Blessed Lord became one of us. Fulton Sheen remarked once (and I don’t have the quote in front of me) that Christ’s death on the cross was, in effect, His way of saying “Look, you don’t have to be afraid of death because I’ve gone through it too.” So I tend to think that those moments in life where we can actually become one with someone who is suffering in any small way are the greatest ways in which we can be like Christ. I am so imperfect in the practice of my faith that I jump on those moments when I can — especially when they are things like this, things that I think are also kind of cool. Cool to shave one’s head? Yep. I teach high school students. Think of the awesome stories I’ll have from this! But the real reason I did it was to show my love for Wilma. She is one of the most beautiful human beings and I want her to know that she will not go through this alone. In the past two days I have actually been a bit self-conscious, thought that people were staring at my scalp and wondering if I had cancer. And I kept thinking “So that’s what that feels like.” Getting back to the idea of suffering with others and solidarity… I forgot to mention that the very idea of fasting from a Christian standpoint is all about this same concept. Yes, there is a disciplining aspect to it. But if we only fasted to discipline ourselves, wouldn’t it be rather selfish? Instead, as Pope Benedict wrote in his Lenten message a few years ago (and again with the text in front of me, you’ll just have to trust me) “fasting is a way for us to actually enter into the life of the poor, the hungry, the suffering; to experience what they experience and live as they live so as to remind us of our obligation toward our brothers and sisters.”
I’m happy with how it looks. I have noticed that my head is colder now. I’ve also noticed that I look a whole lot more like my dad. Anyway, I’ll keep posting. You keep praying. And if any one of you feel inspired to sheer your locks with us, go for it. Just send me a picture so I can post it. I’ve already had a colleague shave his head just today after seeing me last night and hearing my story. I told him he didn’t have to. “No,” he said, “I’ve only met Wilma twice but if anyone should have people show their support, it’s her.” We love you, Wilma, and together we’re going to kick cancer’s a$$.