There is an Irish saying that goes “I complained that I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”  Wise words that give pause to thought.

In February, shortly after Valentine’s Day, my son brought home paperwork from his school about a fund-raising campaign they were running.  It was not to raise money for the PTO, or new playground.  It was to support two families dear to the school who were fighting late stage cancer.  The Goin’ Bald for Bucks campaign (through Roswell Park Alliance Foundation) asks people to get pledges and then have their head shaved.  Monies raised go to the Foundation to support cancer research and support of families.  Students and teachers are all encouraged to participate.  There is also an option to have long lengths (10″ or more) of hair donated to be made into wigs.  I read the flyer with my son and asked if he wanted to participate.  He said “nah,” got distracted by something else and we moved on.  The flyer was left on the table.

For some reason, I did not immediately recycle the flyer.  It sat, unassuming, on the dining room table.  Over dinner one night we discussed the families that were referred to in the flyer.  We talked about cancer and how it can take on many different forms.  We talked about what it might be like for the families that were fighting this horrible illness.  One of the fighters from this school was my son’s Scout Pack leader.  My son asked many questions.  I tried to be honest, but to keep things at a 6-year-old’s level.  It wasn’t easy with some of his questions.  The flyer stayed on the table.

My son’s Scout leader lost his battle with cancer on Ash Wednesday.  One night not long after that, before bed, my son walked out to the dining room and found that flyer.  Bringing it to me he said, “this is for Mr. Turner, isn’t it?  I think I should do this, it would make him proud.”  I hugged my child so tightly that night and told him what an amazing young man he is.  The flyer hung on the refrigerator.

The next couple days were a roller coaster of him wanting to participate in the “Bald” campaign and being nervous about it.  I tried to help ease his worries and told him I was proud of his choice to participate, but it was ultimately his decision and I would not be angry if he changed his mind.  As I watched him wrestle with this, I realized what he needed was a partner.  I knew if he had someone to do this with him, he would be more at ease.  I tried to find out if any of his friends were joining – no.  The struggle continued.

I paused one night and asked myself if I could be his partner for this.  I thought about sitting in the cafeteria with everyone watching while my hair was shaved off.  I thought about the scar on my head from falling off the porch and how much it would show without hair.  I already have to fight my part some days to cover it up.  I thought about the lesion that had to be burned off the back of my head.  Who knows what that would look like if I didn’t have hair to cover it.  I thought about all the not-so-round-and-smooth bald heads I’ve seen.  What if mine is like that?  Nobody knows what their head really looks like! I have an important job to do, I have to talk with the public, I sit on a board of directors – I can’t look like that. I’ve been coloring my hair for over 20 years.  There’s no telling how grey it is now, or where.  It might look ridiculous.  Nope – no way – can’t do it – not an option – beyond my comfort zone.  Decision made.

My son continued to waver over the next couple days and I tried to help him understand and face his fears.  Before going to bed one night, I stopped and looked at the flyer once more, amazed at the spirit of my child wanting to be a part of this and asking myself, again, if I could do it.  I shook my head – I just can’t – and went to bed.

I had a restless night of tossing and agonizing over this campaign.  My son is doing this awesome thing and he’s a bit worried about it, why can’t I help him?  Around 2:30 am I gave myself a little talking to.  I thought about the hundreds – thousands – of people who are facing cancer every day.  They deal with so many things: excruciating pain; inability to go home; being poked and prodded by doctors, nurses and machines; mass doses of pills and elixirs; treatment side-effects that sometimes seem worse than the illness.  The list never ends.  It’s different for everyone and can change daily.  I thought about how many women woke up that very morning with a bald head because that’s the price they had to pay to possibly save their life.  How could I sit here now and worry that if I was a part of this campaign with my son I might look a little funny for a while?  What right did I have!?  So what if my hair is gone?  So what if I don’t have a pretty head?  I was actually going to whine about a bald head when my son is healthy, I am healthy?  This is bigger than my vanity.  I can decide if I want to do this, if I want to be bald  How can I say no and be comfortable with that when so many people don’t even have the choice.  And they are suffering with illness, financial troubles, family turmoil in addition to losing their hair.

This is a small gesture I can do to ease the journey someone else is facing.  And, I get to show my son that he can teach me things sometimes, too.  I want my son to continue to give to others in any way he can.  Having these experiences now will help him to know the ways he is able to give back.  Not everyone can give in the same ways.  Activism is a good fit for some people, but not all.  Others can help by gardening, nurturing, fund-raising, organizing, collecting…there are so many ways to be a part of the giving culture. I want him to be comfortable with putting others first.

I am thrilled to say that on April 5, 2012 my son and I will have our heads shaved together – hopefully I can hold his hand while we do this awesome thing he brought to our lives.  He has taught me some new things about giving and about myself.  I won’t complain about not having shoes (or hair).  I’m too blessed.

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