When most see me sporting my new shoulder-length bob, they’ll assume I cut off 10 inches and donated my hair to help a kiddo with cancer.
It makes sense – I’m a cancer survivor myself who was diagnosed in my teens.
The first moment I broke down and cried about my colon cancer wasn’t when I first heard the “c” word. It was when my oncology nurse gently told me I’d most likely lose my hair with treatment.
Alone and curled up in a white sterile hallway, I let the first stream of tears trickle down on my flare jeans. Take my intestines, cut up my stomach, but leave my hair alone. That’s how I felt. Facing hair loss at age 17 packed a particularly powerful punch. I felt fortunate when my hair thinned but never fully fell out.
My deep attachment to hair formed soon after that and gave reason to why I wear it long most of the time. It reminds me of my journey and how I pulled through. My hair is one part of my body that usually cooperates and doesn’t cause me embarrassment. If only my thighs would take notes.
Cutting it off wasn’t an easy decision but an important one. I didn’t just cut it to donate (although I’m honored to give it to an organization that helps kids get wigs for free and build confidence). And I didn’t cut it for cancer (because victory over cancer means that not everything gets to be about cancer)!
I cut it to raise awareness for the 6.8 million people out there in the U.S. living with something called alopecia who face hairlessness every day. (And God bless them, people who put up with strangers assuming they have cancer every day!) I cut it to support my friend Nicole, who’s one of them.
Learning About Alopecia
Three years ago Nicole confided in me and disclosed her alopecia areata – an autoimmune condition where her body attacks her hair follicles and leaves her with patches of hair or no hair. In an email that took her all day to write, she disclosed that the hair I assumed was her own was actually a blonde wig. She’d never openly told anyone else. She was 28 years old.
My heart sank immediately. I’d only experienced the threat of what her everyday life was like. I felt humbled that she shared. I didn’t know what to say. I started asking lots of questions.
In the coming days, weeks and years, she slowly let me into her world. She let me see what it’s like to live with alopecia.
I saw good days and bad – and the tendency for the bad to outweigh the good without a strong support system in place. I heard about rude comments made to her and others with alopecia, and watched people give awkward stares. I felt the tension in strangers’ unspoken assumptions. I saw “small” plans like swimming and shopping become potential stressors.
I felt her pain when stories about kids’ responses came up. Those cut the deepest.
I recognized the societal obsession with outward beauty, and especially hair, in a way I’d never seen it before becoming aware of alopecia. I felt compassion and love for those out there who face hairlessness yet feel they must hide it in order to be accepted or survive – especially the ladies. It’s a harsh world out there.
Making The Cut
A few months ago Nicole went public with her story about alopecia and made the brave decision to live wig-free. She wanted to help others who also lived with alopecia know that freedom is possible. She wanted to make others aware that a condition like alopecia exists and get people talking about it.
This month, Alopecia Awareness Month, she chose to take it one step farther and post a picture of herself (and her awesome mohawk) on social media each day. She’s pushed herself to keep her story out there and stay open to telling it, even when it’s hard and painful.
I wanted to join in and support the cause.
Too often those with alopecia fight alone, isolated from the rest of the world in shame and pain. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
Nicole’s now wig-free. Inspired by the courage of alopecians, I cut my hair.
Being different isn’t easy whether you’re facing alopecia or cancer, or some other condition that’s not “normal.” The threat or life-long reality of no hair is scary, painful and hard.
But on the other side of those struggles lies freedom and victory, friendship and hope. It’s a place where true identity stems from the beauty of the soul. It’s a place where hair is simply… just hair.