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YOU’RE DOING WHAT?

My brother had acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)  and lymphoma when he was a child, so cancer was a normal topic of discussion in my life.

He attended camps exclusively for children and young adults who were either battling cancer or in remission. While the primary goal is to ensure children with cancer are able to have the same summer fun and participate in exciting experiences regardless of their condition, it also recognizes the importance of family. Family is a significant central theme for the nonprofit organization, One Step At a Time (COS), because anyone who’s had an intimate experience with cancer knows that it has devastating effects to more than just the patient. 

Through COS, I was able to connect with other siblings of cancer victims, and was exposed to a community made up of the most incredible people I’ve ever known (shout out to my COS fam, you guys rock).

 

My family was blessed, my brother survived and has been in remission for 10+ years…and I have been able to grow up with a best friend. 

 

 

Unfortunately though, I’ve see first hand how cancer can rip into families and tear away loved ones.

In 2012, I learned about St. Baldrick’s foundation through a friend who was several years older and had decided to participate in an event held in the Twin Cities. Since then, I’ve wanted to participate and “Rock the Bald”. The timing was never quite right: I was too nervous, I was the lead in the school musical and couldn’t be without hair, my father got married and we all agreed it was better for me to have hair for the wedding/family photos, I had the privilege of being a bridesmaid in another family wedding, the excuses go on and on. Finally this summer though, I mustered up the courage and registered. 

 

THE BUILD UP

When I first announced my decision I was admittedly a little nervous about the reactions I would get in response. Internally though, I was filled with excitement … I was finally doing it! When I timidly told my friends that I had signed up for St. Baldricks, the positive response and kind words I received were overwhelming. My friends (who are also poor college students with only $20 to their names) managed to empty their sock drawer for change and support my cause on more than just an emotional level.

As the day quickly approached, I became more nervous every time I thought of it. What if my head was weirdly shaped? Or I had a bunch of random freckles or moles on my head? Like anyone else, most of my worries came from a slightly vain place. The day before the event, the place I work held a “bloodies and braids” gathering. As I was getting my hair braided, it really dawned on me that this was the last day I’d have the luxury of long hair for quite some time. 

The morning of, I woke up with excitement.

It was an emotional event, mostly for my mom. She cried a lot. 

 

And just like that, all of my hair was gone. 

AFTER

There are a lot of things you don’t think about when you’ve always had hair. Here are some of those things:

  • In the days and weeks following the shaving, I was always cold… even on an 80 degree day I had to make sure I had a winter hat when I left the house. Everybody knows that hair is an insulator for the body, but it’s such a big adjustment for you body, much bigger than I’d expected.
  • I (and a lot of other people) touched my head a lot.
  • YOU NEVER HAVE TO DEAL WITH BOBBY PINS OR HAIR TIES, IT’S SO GREAT
  • When there’s a part of your body that has never had sun exposure, it gets sunburnt REALLY fast, and it’s arguably the most painful sunburn I’ve ever had.
  • It felt weird to shower at first, and I was really confused on if I was supposed to use shampoo or not? (It’s up to your discretion, but most bald people opt for body wash instead).
  • No, it doesn’t hurt (dumb question, I know. But I’ve never come into close contact with clippers before so can you blame me for being a little nervous??)

 

THE CARING, THE COMPLIMENTARY, AND THE CRITICAL 

While the responses I received from the majority of people were positive, I did receive some criticism. One man in my life attacked my intentions and said “can you raise money without shaving your head? Or do you gotta make it all about you and show people you did it?” He called me selfish, pathetic, attention seeking, and desperate, among other things (PSA: he is NOT to be confused with the supportive, kind, incredible men that are pictured below… you can bet I cut him out of my life REAL QUICK after that attack on my character). This struck me, and honestly hurt me quite a bit. I’m a strong believer that actions speak louder than words. While it’s nice to be recognized for the good things you do, carrying out kind gestures quietly is much more satisfying to me.

However, things were a little different in this circumstance. The nonprofit St. Baldrick’s Foundation is about more than just financial support, the head shaving event is intended to also offer emotional support for those that are battling cancer. For many people it’s emotionally devastating to lose their hair; hair becomes a significant part of your identity over the years, particularly for girls and women (but for guys as well!). The gesture of CHOOSING to shave your head is a way of saying “I stand with you, you’re not alone.” It’s a way to tell someone that what they look like isn’t important, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

Despite the few negative responses I received, overall it was such a positive experience. I will admit that I was a little underwhelmed by the support (or lack there of) coming from some of my family, especially given the personal connection. BUT, I received so much more love and support from friends, my community (especially in Waupaca, WI, shout out to the nicest little town there is), and even strangers. By the time all was said and done, my heart was so full.

One particular encounter that truly embodied the generosity that St. Baldrick’s strives to highlight is this: I was sitting at a bar using the wifi of the establishment to get some work done, when the bartender (a good friend of mine) got into a conversation with two gentlemen to the left of me. He had told them about my upcoming event and how I hadn’t met my fundraising goal yet. With $150 to go and less than 2 weeks, I was a little discouraged that I wouldn’t reach it. After talking with them for a while, the two men (complete strangers may I remind you) each donated $75 to complete my fundraising goal. 

(Side note, I surpassed my goal by >$300, WHAT WHAT?! Thanks to everyone who donated!)

After the shaving, I got some odd looks and noticed that strangers were hesitant around me. It was mostly because they thought I had cancer and weren’t sure if they should feel bad, or how to approach the conversation. It usually came up naturally in dialog, but i was excited when it did because that’s the whole point: to spread the word and raise awareness. 

Long story short: it’s one of the best experiences I’ve had and 10/10 would recommend that everyone (especially women) participate in an event with St. Baldrick’s. 

 

The Day Of

 

 

1 Month After

 

 

3 Months After

                                                                                                   

 

7 Months After (Current)

Whether she's in the studio dancing, or in the lab looking at the world through a microscope, Jenna always manages to keep busy. As a molecular biology major, you can usually find her in the greenhouse finding her "zen" among the plants. She intends to pursue a career in the medical field following undergrad, but in her spare time she loves to sleep. Because let's be honest, who doesn't love to sleep?
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