Chemo Hair

by | May 19, 2009 | Blessing, Trials

“What are you doing?” The last thing I expected (or wanted) to see was my little sister, lying sideways across the guest bed in our house, calmly running her fingers through her “chemo hair” and dropping the hands full of beautiful silky blonde hair into the wastebasket next to the bed.

My gorgeous twenty-eight year old sister was losing her battle with brain cancer and accepted it with a grace and gratitude that at times, blew me away. Like now.

Angel had always been very “into” her looks. I’m sure it stemmed from losing her hair at the age of three from her first battle with cancer. She beat that one, but when her hair came back, it was always very thin. Her entire life, she had fretted about her hair, sensitive to its never being quite as thick as she’d like. This past year it had grown to her shoulders and was a shiny, silky blonde that framed her pretty face just right. Now her face looked battle-ravaged – bruised from constantly losing her balance (a side-affect of the brain tumor), swollen from the steroids that she needed to help keep her brain from swelling. I never understood how the steroids could differentiate between the swelling in her brain and the swelling in her face. How did they diminish one and cause the other? Her hair was no longer framing her lovely face, it was now simply falling out around her.

“What are you DOING?” I asked again. A little half-smile lit her face.

“I’m thanking God.” Her words will forever stay with me. My baby sis taught me every single day of her life since her brain cancer diagnosis. She could see the blessing in every single situation, no matter how desperately they frightened me.

I laughed at her upside-down pose, hanging off the bed, pulling the rest of her hair out and dropping it like it was nothing more than a disposable afterthought.

I didn’t know whether she was losing her marbles along with her hair, or was serious about thanking God as she lost her crowing glory.

“What are you thanking Him for?” I was puzzled, but knew there was a lesson here. I just had to wait for it.

“Because I have a chance to grow thick hair now!” She seemed surprised at my stupidity. “I’ve always hated my hair and now it’s falling out, I can grow new hair.”

Most women I know, including myself would be a LOT more upset – hysterically crying, actually, at being faced with losing their hair on top of everything else a cancer patient has to endure. For women, your hair is a huge part of your identity. In fact, I personally have always been known BY my hair. I’m a redhead and have spent my whole life being called “red”, “carrot top”, “that redhead”… I don’t think I’d know who I am without my hair. But here was my sister, with an almost Zen-like acceptance of this new phase in her life, not only not hysterical, but feeling thankful! She always taught me that no matter how bad things seemed, how heart-wrenching and gut-deep our pain was, there was always something to be thankful for.

She has been gone six years now. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long. In many ways, I feel like she was just with me yesterday. Things she did or said, or taught me continually come back to me, often out of the blue. Her spirit of gratitude and joy in life were beautiful gifts that continue to bless me, even after all this time.

On days when I’m having a bad hair day, or feel cranky because of something superficial, I find myself remembering her thanking God on what could have been one of the lowest days of her life. Instead of going into a tailspin and feeling lost without her locks, she simply found the hope that comes with change and truly, from the deepest part of her heart, felt grateful for it. Angel’s hair never did quite come in much, but the greatest changes possible in a person’s life did flow forth and would never have done so without her battle with cancer. She became a brilliant example of what God wants us to become during our time on earth. She learned there is a rainbow within every cloud and that there is always something to be thankful for.

On this day, a day when you might feel less than grateful for life’s hardships and challenges, remember a beautiful twenty-eight year old woman, her golden hair falling out, and thanking God for it. There is always something to be thankful for.

Susan Farr-Fahncke copyright 2007


Chemo Hair