Bald is Beautiful

2 Aug

My twenty-one year old daughter just shaved her head. When she first told me she was considering doing it, I reacted in my usual jump-to-conclusions-quick-to-disapprove mode and spoke before I took the time to think. I told her she was being impulsive and that she would look ridiculous.

“No one will take you seriously if you cut off your hair, Leah!” I yelled at her, “You just want to do it for the attention you’ll get!”

The look on her face made me want to suck those awful words right back into my mouth, but I just couldn’t bear the thought of her shaving off her beautiful chocolate brown hair that framed her lovely face and fell like silk across her shoulders. Truthfully, the thought of seeing another child of mine with a bald head was just too much for me to face.

You’d think that as her mom, I would have been more supportive of her decision to shave her head, especially after I found out why she wanted to do it, but I’m stubborn sometimes and it takes me a while to see the big picture. At first, all I could think of was how funny she would look, and secondly, what would people think, and finally, how much I would miss her long, thick hair. I’m embarrassed to say that I tried unsuccessfully to talk her out of it.

Daddy cutting off Leah’s braids

Yet, despite my lack of enthusiasm, our entire family traveled down to Los Angeles last Sunday to watch Leah shave her head in front of hundreds of people at a mall in the center of Hollywood. She recently joined 46 Mommas Shave for the Brave, a group of moms who shave their heads publicly to raise money for St. Baldrick’s, a foundation that funds pediatric cancer research. They call themselves 46 Mommas because each weekday, 46 children are diagnosed with cancer in the United States—that’s two full classrooms of children! All of these moms have had a child diagnosed with cancer, and some of them have even lost their children to this insidious disease. These extraordinary women came to Hollywood from all over the United States and Canada to tell their personal stories of survival and loss.

Now, Leah is not a mom of a cancer survivor, but she’s close to being one. She was fifteen when Isa was born, so she spent a great amount of time being a second mommy to her little sister. Because of Leah’s enthusiasm and commitment to raise money for cancer research, this wonderful organization graciously allowed her to join them as an honorary member.

I cannot remember ever experiencing a more beautiful day in Los Angeles. The atmosphere in the Mall at Hollywood and Highland was electric. Our family sat in awe as we observed  mom after mom sit on the stage and tell stories of their cancer journeys while their heads were being shaved. Many of them, like Leah, donated their hair to help make wigs for children who have gone bald from chemotherapy treatment.

When it was Leah’s turn to be shaved, my daughters, Nora and Isa, and my son, Nino and I walked tentatively up on stage. We encircled Leah, and watched teary-eyed as my husband Rene took the electric razor and began to shave her head. Rock music blared in the background and the crowd cheered enthusiastically as KTLA newscaster Lu Parker interviewed Leah about why she was there.

Lu Parker from KTLA interviewing Rene

Leah was really doing it, and I have to admit, it was spectacular! The smile on Leah’s face was radiant. I began to cry as I flashed back to a day five years earlier, when we had just returned home from spending two weeks in the hospital after Isa’s initial diagnosis of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Isa had been so very sick for two weeks, burning up with uncontrolled fevers as her anemic body tried to fight off the many infections that coursed through her blood. Even with plasma and platelet transfusions, her compromised immune system could not put up a good fight against the leukemia. It was a frightening time for all of us—knowing there was a chance that we could lose her.

That morning, tufts of Isa’s thick brown hair covered her pillow, and we realized that it was indeed happening—the chemo was making her hair fall out no matter how much we hoped it wouldn’t. We decided to shave her head because we knew it would all come out eventually.

I remember how brave my husband acted as he shaved Isa’s little head, even though he couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down his cheeks as the electric razor buzzed around her tiny head. Bunches of her long hair fell silently to the ground like downy feathers around our feet. In our minds, we all knew on some level that Isa had leukemia, but through this simple act of shaving off her hair, we finally understood in our hearts that Isa really did have cancer, and this initial realization was crushing.

Isa after we shaved her head

Yet somehow, probably because we had no choice, we made it through to the other side, stronger and more caring than we were before this thing called cancer came into our lives. I can’t believe that five long years have gone by since that terrible day in 2007. Next week, on August 6, Isa will be considered completely cured of her leukemia, and we are so grateful that she is here with us, healthy and vibrant, with long, dark hair that cascades down her back like a horse’s mane.

Changing places: now Isa is the one with long hair and Leah is the bald one!

In the end, I was correct—Leah did shave her head for the attention it would cause, but my assumptions about why she did it were completely wrong. Leah shaved her head because she is a brave soul with a huge heart who cares so deeply about finding a cure for cancer that she will go to the extreme of shaving her head in order to raise awareness about childhood cancer and thus encourage others to donate to the cause. By drawing attention to herself in this way, she knows that people will be able to put a real story and face to pediatric cancer—a story about a young woman’s tremendous love for her little sister who fought cancer so bravely and survived.

Today, we are so thankful that Isa was cured of her leukemia. We attribute her survival to the thousands of hours dedicated to cancer research over the years—research that was funded by so many wonderful organizations like St. Baldrick’s, and which gave Isa a ninety percent chance of survival instead of a certain death sentence.

The Mireles Clan supporting Leah

When “Shave for the Brave” was just about over, an invitation came out across the loudspeaker for any volunteers who wanted to shave their heads in solidarity for the 46 Mommas. All of a sudden, I heard my husband’s voice being interviewed. Rene was getting his head shaved, too—just to show his support for Leah.

It’s Leah’s turn to shave Daddy

As I discovered last Sunday, bald really is beautiful, and so are the 46 Mommas and all of their supporters who work so diligently to keep up this valiant fight against pediatric cancer in our minds and in our hearts. I’m so proud of Leah for making this selfless gesture on behalf of all children with cancer. Fight on, Leah, and fight on Brave Mommas!

29 Responses to “Bald is Beautiful”

  1. Darlene Craviotto August 2, 2012 at 7:37 pm #

    Yesterday I learned that my daughter’s roomate’s sister lost her battle with leukemia. She was 22. If shaving our heads will help just one young person survive the disease through more research, we should all shave our heads. Thank you for writing this moving post, and thank your daughter for her help in funding such important medical research.

    • Allegro non tanto August 2, 2012 at 8:23 pm #

      I’m so very sorry to hear that, Darlene. There’s nothing worse than hearing of someone so young who was taken by this terrible disease. Research is definitely the key to finding a cure….

  2. mele August 2, 2012 at 7:40 pm #

    That girl really is amazing! I love how wholeheartedly she has put herself in the midst of this fight, Leah is going to move mountains one day I swear! So amazing that Isa is going to be considered cancer free…I hope that day brings you all a deep cleansing breath of relief with the knowledge that the dark days are behind us and the way forward is bathed in sunshine 🙂

    • Allegro non tanto August 2, 2012 at 8:24 pm #

      Love you Mele. Yes, the dark days are gone, but I won’t ever forget them because they’ve made me appreciate the sunny days so much more!

  3. Corrine Appelbaum August 2, 2012 at 9:02 pm #

    Jessie, your family continues to amaze and move me in so many ways. Thank you for sharing this most beautiful example of being courageous…on all of your parts.

    P.S – I think the picture of the five of you should be your Christmas photo!

  4. Gabriela August 2, 2012 at 11:05 pm #

    Great Family XOXOXOX

  5. happykidshappymom August 3, 2012 at 6:44 am #

    Oh Jessica, your post has brought tears to my eyes. So honest. So heartfelt. So full of heartache and hope. You are a masterful writer. What a journey your family has been on. I cannot even begin to imagine the emotions going through your mind when you watched your older daughter shave her head just like you did for your younger daughter — what a brave family you have. And the description of your husband shaving Isa’s head will stay with me forever.

    You told this story with depth, with courage and with all the things I know have held your strong family afloat through these difficult times. I will celebrate for you, on August 6th, and pray for continued good health for you and your loved ones.

    PS — That look of pride in little Isa’s eyes in the changing places photo? Wow.

    • Allegro non tanto August 3, 2012 at 7:34 am #

      Thank you so much, Melissa! I’ve missed you! I assume you’re taking the summer off from blogging and hope you’re coming back soon. Hope your family is well!.

      • happykidshappymom August 3, 2012 at 5:57 pm #

        Yes, taking the summer off. 🙂 Working on some children’s books and enjoying the sun with my kids. Sounds so relaxing when I put it like that, but it’s 9pm and I just got them into bed and I’m EXHAUSTED! 🙂

  6. Kati August 3, 2012 at 9:10 am #

    Hey Jess- beautiful story…LOVE THAT LEAH! and all of you! You are amazing and so wonderful at sharing your family’s story. So happy for Isa’s successful battle! I did just find out this week that the 14 year old daughter of friends of ours from college was just diagnosed with lymphoma. Praying for her happy ending, too.

    • Allegro non tanto August 3, 2012 at 11:15 am #

      So sorry to hear about your friends’ daughter. Luckily, certain types of lymphoma in children (like leukemia) are highly curable. I feel so badly for her family, having already experienced what they’re about to go through. Hopefully, she’ll respond favorably to treatment and someday soon it will all just seem like a bad dream…

  7. DEBatterman August 3, 2012 at 10:10 am #

    I smiled. I got teary. I got goosebumps. I cheered. The photo of Isa just after her head was shaved,followed by the photo of Isa lifted in the arms of Leah (after her head was shaved), are worth much more than a thousand words.

    • Allegro non tanto August 3, 2012 at 11:16 am #

      Head shaving is emotional, no matter what the circumstances!

  8. Becki Norton August 3, 2012 at 10:44 am #

    Leah, Isa, and Rene (well, your whole family, actually!) are my kinda heroes!
    Thanks for sharing this touching and inspirational story.
    “Heroes are ordinary people who make themselves extraordinary.” — Gerard Way

  9. elizabeth August 3, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    What a fantastic story and what a wonderful family you have. Congrats on iaising children with such brave and courageous souls. This is going to stay with me for along time. With all the bad news, this warmed my heart and brought a lump to my throat. elizabeth

    • Allegro non tanto August 4, 2012 at 10:28 pm #

      Thank you, Elizabeth. I’m so proud of all of my kids–they are truly remarkable.

  10. Britton Minor August 6, 2012 at 9:05 am #

    I’m choked up…and beyond words. How utterly beautiful, giving, and strong. I love that your husband stepped up with her as well—what a precious gift to her, and to others.

    • Allegro non tanto August 6, 2012 at 2:17 pm #

      It certainly was a beautiful sight to watch both of them shave their heads for such a great cause! They are my heroes, that’s for sure.

  11. Becky Green Aaronson August 7, 2012 at 8:58 pm #

    Jessica, your family never ceases to inspire me. I’m so proud of Leah and Rene and all of you for helping give cancer a kick in the ass. By doing so, you are inspiring others do the same. Isa is already such an inspiration with her adorable firecracker personality. We are all celebrating with you this August 6th!!! Yay Isa!!!!!

  12. Charla Bregante August 10, 2012 at 10:21 pm #

    What a beautiful story, Jessie. You must be so proud of both of your beautiful daughters. I am so grateful that you are sharing your cancer story with all of us. It truly helps to keep things in perspective. And I am grateful for the opportunity to get to know you a bit better through our share blogging. Keep those posts coming.

  13. kgwaite August 17, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

    Beautiful post – Glad I found you through Deb’s FB group

  14. Tracey September 26, 2012 at 9:24 am #

    I love this post. LOVE IT. Your kids are awesome.

  15. Nikole October 8, 2012 at 1:34 am #

    This brought tears to my eyes that just wouldn’t stop. So very, very inspiring. Your daughters are amazing. Your writing and posts are so humble and powerful. Thanks for sharing.

    • Allegro non tanto October 8, 2012 at 7:23 am #

      Thank you so much, Nikole. I agree, my daughters are amazing!

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