Photo from Kylie Rush
Everyone is affected by cancer in some way or another. Throughout my life, I’ve known of people fighting the great battle but never someone close to me. In the small town that I lived in, if someone was diagnosed, everyone would know. The fight was never personal to me. I had compassion for the people fighting and their families, but I didn’t really know what it was like until the summer of 2010.
My grandmother’s health was beginning to fail in May with no explanation. It wasn’t until August that the doctors figured out through several tests that she had lung cancer. After her diagnosis, the cancer continued to spread and in only three months, she had passed away.
For a long time, my family was in shock. It hit us all so fast that we didn’t know what to do. It was almost as if we were numb. I had finally understood what people were going through. The disease had taken my grandmother away from me, and there was nothing I could do about it. I felt a sense of helplessness. So when my Aunt Joyce was diagnosed with endometriosis on June 13, I knew I had to do everything in my power that I could for her.
My family banded together quickly. We put together a team for our local Relay for Life, complete with our “Team Joyce” T-shirts, and walked the 12 hours. Recently, we held a poker run in her honor.
It’s been especially hard for me this year being away from home. Almost every weekend, my family is together. I used to stop several times a week at Aunt Joyce’s house to check on her, and now the most contact I get with her is the occasional phone call or Facebook message. She’s continuing to get better, but it’s still tough on me. I want to be a part of her progress, but it seems like I can’t when I’m so far away.
Joyce’s daughters, Jerrice and Jessalee, recently organized an event called “Cut to Dance” for their mom. For the event, people could donate money for Joyce’s treatments and choose whose hair out of the volunteers they wanted to see cut off. For every $100 donated, one inch of hair would be cut. All of the volunteers have long hair and will end up donating the ten or more inches that are required for Locks of Love. I’ve had short hair since the last time I donated to Locks of Love, but I still wanted to show my support. I felt that even if I couldn’t donate my hair to Locks of Love, I could still cut off the five inches of hair that I did have in her honor.
The event was originally scheduled for Sept. 30, so my roommates Kelsey Johnson, Maddie Alcon, Paige Johnson and I decided to take the five-hour drive to South Dakota to support my family. At the last minute, Jerrice had to reschedule the event to this Saturday. Because we all had prior engagements planned for this weekend, we decided we would still go during the Sept. 30 weekend, and I would still be cutting my hair.
Upon our arrival into town, we stopped at Joyce’s house, and I told her my plans to cut my hair over the weekend still stood even though I couldn’t make it the following weekend. She was overjoyed. The very next morning, all five inches of my hair were almost gone. I only have about an inch of hair left on my head, and I couldn’t be happier.
I have already had a few people comment on the shortness of my hair, and every time I can’t wait to tell them why I did it. It’s almost as if I’ve become a walking billboard for cancer awareness. Anyone that asks me about it gets the rundown of my aunt’s and grandmother’s stories and a few words of cancer advocacy.
In a way, I feel even closer to my aunt now. Every time I catch my reflection in the mirror or a window, I think of her. Any time someone comments on my new do, I think of her. I feel like I’m part of her progress now, when before I felt so distant and helpless. Now I feel like she’s always with me, and that I’ve made a difference. Some people might say I could have shown my support without being so drastic, but I feel like it’s an outward sign of my inward feelings. I’ve been supporting Joyce since she was diagnosed, but no one else could have seen that from looking at me.
Even though Joyce was my primary reason for this drastic change, it’s about even more than that. It’s a sign for my grandmother and those people that I knew of but didn’t understand, and it’s for the people who I’ve never even met before who are fighting for their lives. These people are the epitome of bravery. Every time they go into the hospital for a chemotherapy or radiation treatment, they are facing both physical and emotional pain as well as the fear of the future. If all it takes for me to get the conversation started about cancer awareness is for me to cut all my hair off, then why wouldn’t I?