A bright red ponytail and flying blond hair edged around the corner of room number 11 in the Children’s Cancer ward. Wide-eyes greeted me as my two precious little girls tip-toed over to where I perched on the parent chair/bed/sofa/storage unit. I hadn’t seen them for over a week: the same week we all adjusted to our youngest having Leukemia. The first week I’d ever spent apart from both girls. I expected questions about Andrew – his diagnosis, his prognosis or the tubes running into his body while he slept heavily. They stared at him in silence and cuddled deeper into my sides.
“Mommy,” whispered one, “we walked past rooms…”
The other added, “Mom – the children were bald! All of them. Will Andrew be bald?”
Bald wasn’t my major concern – life and death took precedence.
Later in the evening, after piling onto Andrew’s bed and reading stories, pulling him around the cancer ward in the sanitized red wagon and getting a lesson on the “pokes” that had become Andrew’s routine, both girls again asked questions.
They asked about blood, pokes, the masks we’d have to wear and tests. Then they asked if Andrew was going to get well.
Then the girls returned to the subject of all the bald children they’d seen throughout the afternoon. My girls had such thick, long hair – one was bright red hair and the other with blond streaks. They kept fiddling with with their hair as they recalled the little bald girl next door. Larissa whispered, “Mommy. No one should have to be bald…if they don’t want to be.”
That thought stuck in my oldest child’s head and somehow, by the time Andrew and I were able to come home from the hospital a month later, both girls had determined to grow their hair out as long as possible. They had heard of something called Locks of Love” and were determined to donate. I explained that those wigs were not necessarily for children with cancer, but for children who couldn’t grow hair long-term. Both girls could care less WHY the children were without hair – they just wanted to help them.
This thanksgiving my “girls” came home from college. The oldest is a senior pre-med student in the mid-west and the middle “child” is a sophomore engineering major in the northwest. They both have long, beautiful hair – despite three hair donations over the years. Friday, before heading back to school, Larissa insisted on a hair cut – a short one (relatively). I suggested not cutting it so drastically, as she’s had long hair for years.
“Go big or go home!” Larissa declared, “As long as I’m donating, let’s donate a lot!”
That brings Larissa’s total hair donation to well over 35 inches of hair over the years.
I told her she could sell this batch – after all, she’s a struggling college student. Rolled eyes and a shrug reminded me that she didn’t do this just for the shock of a dramatic change in looks (although she’s having a blast with that too).
Long ago, in a children’s hospital, Larissa’s heart was changed by challenges strangers faced. She saw a need and did what she could. I’ve often wondered if that’s also where her desire to be a doctor has come from – helping strangers face challenges.
Cancer is ugly. Horrible. Awful. It changes people’s lives.