There was only one thing I knew to be true when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 at the age of 32: It would not be a horrendous experience for my three sons, Ethan, then 7, Colby, 5, and Zack, 18 months. In the months following my diagnosis, I offered them enough information to satisfy their curiosity, but provided enough shelter to allow them to still be children. I was determined that my cancer wouldn’t rob them of their innocence.
Even so, questions swirled and fears surfaced, and much of the banter was about “the hair.” Every day, someone—usually Colby—asked, “When will you lose your hair?” To be honest, the topic occupied a great deal of my headspace, too (so to speak). Would the baby be afraid of me without it? Would he recognize me? Would the kids be ashamed or embarrassed? After all, they were so little. How could they have any concept of what such hair loss means?
It was after my first cycle of chemotherapy that I noticed Colby was becoming super-anxious, waking up and immediately asking if my hair was going to fall out that day. And on day 12, it started. At first, I noticed extra strands in the sink or on my pillow in the morning, but over the next few days, running my fingers through my freshly cut bob produced small fistfuls. I lay awake with my husband, Jeremy, discussing what we could do to make this a more positive experience for all of us. I couldn’t have my kids fearfully waiting for the day when I would greet them as their new, hairless mother. So we made one of the single most important parenting decisions we’ve made to date. We scheduled a family haircutting party for that Friday night, day 16.
Friday came, our only other guests—my parents—arrived and the anticipation grew. Jeremy fussed around in the kitchen, keeping himself busy while I sat at the table on a low chair. Ethan and Colby, perched on stools on either side of me, were handed scissors. I sat very still, hoping that my ears wouldn’t be severed. The boys were cautious at first, but it wasn’t long before nervous laughter and full-on giggling ensued. My personal grief was completely overshadowed by the happiness of my kids.
I must admit, I cried a little when I glanced across the table and looked into the eyes of my father. I whispered, “This is so good for them.” He nodded sadly.
By the end of the party, I looked like a crazy mother who had afforded her young boys the luxury of moonlighting as miniature hairstylists (which I was!). After a quick tidying-up by my mom, I was channelling Irish-born songstress Sinéad O’Connor, feeling empowered, liberated and overcome by the love of my family.
Jeremy and Ethan assured me, “You look good!” while Colby declared, “I actually think it looks better,” and the baby delightfully shrieked, “Mama! Mama!” and rubbed my head. My boys’ friends thought it was so cool that they got to cut their mom’s hair off, which further grounded this experience in a sense of normalcy. Everyone was happy, because we had decided “when.”
This article was originally published online in October 2013.