As the mother of a young daughter who had lost her hair during cancer treatment, I was asked to share my personal experience with those in attendance with the hope of inspiring as many girls as possible to step forward to cut their ponytails. I was thrilled to do so.
I told them about Erin, who had been a spirited, fifteen-year-old athlete (who had begun playing volleyball with 1st Alliance/Lions in third grade) when she was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma in December of her sophomore year at Lyons Township High School.
A cancer diagnosis impacts so many facets of an individual's life, and one challenge many victims face is the effect it has upon their physical appearance. For the typical teenager who is very concerned about fitting in with the crowd, looking good is at the top of their checklist. Shortly after beginning chemotherapy, Erin's long, beautiful hair began to come out in handfuls. Attainable items on her personal checklist fell away, one by one.
She couldn't attend school due to her treatment protocol. She was facing radical surgery that would take away her ability to participate in the sport she hoped to play in college on a scholarship. Her system was trying to adjust to the cocktail of prescribed chemotherapy drugs, AND she was quickly becoming bald. No, she most certainly did not fit in. She sat, hooked to infusion pumps, while the crowd moved forward.
In time and with the support of family and friends, she began to make progress toward accepting this altered path of life that stood before her. Adjustments were made, attitudes were reshaped and the concept of perspective was gaining recognition.
Not yet convinced that anything could make her look "normal" with that white, shiny, hairless head sitting atop her shoulders, she finally agreed to go to a wig store with me... just to look around mom!! God bless the woman who owned the place because this voice of experience took my tearful, self-conscious daughter by the hand, sat her down in a chair in front of a huge mirror and gently placed a box of tissues in her lap. After asking Erin what type of hairstyle she liked, she went into another room and came back with wigs that varied slightly in length (long and longer) and color (brown, medium and dark). She explained that they were all made from real hair that people had donated. They could be washed, conditioned, blow-dried, curled, flat-ironed, dyed, highlighted and/or cut.
As Erin tried them on, one after the other, I noticed fewer tissues coming from the box in her lap. She began to ask questions about the styles - layered or blunt cut, what do you think mom? This one? And the sadness and tension that had initially dominated her corner of the room were slowly being replaced by, dare I say, a shred of confidence? Wait, there's a smile! One was finally chosen. Medium brown, long, layered.
As we drove home, I looked over at my daughter who was staring out the passenger seat window, running her fingers through the new hair on her head. I asked what she was thinking. She said, "It truly does feel almost like my real hair." And, in a moment she added, "I wish I could thank the people who donated their hair to make this wig. It was really generous of them." I bit my cheeks and wished I had that box of tissues that was sitting back at the store.
Erin lived for three years after her diagnosis. Due to different treatment protocols, she lost her hair three times. The first experience was, by far, the most difficult for her. Throughout those years, her wig was worn to school, while coaching volleyball games, when out with friends on weekends, at prom, to graduation from LT and into the halls of Elmhurst College for a couple of months.
I've thought of her gratitude that day in the car so many times since her passing in 2009, and thus was so happy to have the opportunity to share her sentiments with everyone at The MAX last Saturday.
So, on behalf of my angel, Erin, I sincerely thank all of the young ladies who set personal vanity to the side and selflessly donated their lovely hair so someone else will feel a little more "normal". I truly appreciate how difficult it is for teens to understand the impact of this gesture unless they've known someone personally who has been affected by this common side-effect of cancer treatment, so the overwhelming response (90 donors!) was extraordinary.
Now, because of their generosity, someone is going to look really pretty!
|Erin, wearing her wig, at her LT graduation in June 2009.|
- Thank you to Sharon Markman, Director of Public Affairs and Communications at Lurie Cancer Center and two-year melanoma survivor, who organized the event and whose daughter, Alexa, was one of the hair donors.
- Thank you to Sue Keck, Club Director of 1st Alliance and six-year breast cancer survivor.
- Thank you to Jeff Tobolski, Mayor of McCook, and Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Board President, for their support of the cause.
Good things are happening around town!