Friday, September 30, 2011

The Importance of Hair

My New Hairdo 9/28/11

Hair is important... just ask any guy spending $19.95 a month on rogain, or the average woman who spends well over $100 every 5 weeks for a cut and color (don't even get me started about the additional cost of a blowout).

Millions of dollars are spent every year in salons and on styling products, and networks are starting to create reality TV shows (e.g. Tabathas Salon Takeover; Shear Genius) that showcase the "real" trials and tribulations of bobs and bangs. Even Sarah Palin's hair salon is getting its own series: Big Hair Alaska, "where the personalities of the owner and her staff are as big as the hairstyles they create."

Why all the fuss?

Hair has long been considered a source of mythological and cultural strength. Some Native American tribes believed that scalping was a way to capture their enemy's strength. In the Bible, Samson is granted unimaginable physical strength by God on the condition that he never cuts his hair. (Samson of course loses his power when Delilah finds out his secret, and has his head shaved.) Even today, certain faiths still forbid their followers to cut their hair, such as Amish women and Sikh men.

Hair is important... just ask any cancer survivor who has gone through the trauma of losing it.

I've been a frequent flyer at different cancer centers these last 15 months, always with a full head of hair. While I am grateful that carcinoid cancer really doesn't have a treatment path that leads down the way to baldness ... my locks always make me feel like a bit of an impostor - like a weak warrior on a battle field of combat veterans who wear their shiny bald heads (delicately lined with thin blue veins, wrapped in colorful silk scarves) like fierce battledress.

In the new Seth Rogen comedy, 50/50 (opening this weekend) two 20-something bosom-buddies find out that one has cancer - with a 50% chance of survival. The trailer plays a familiar scene in which they use a "questionably clean" set of body trimmers to shave off the one friend's hair, before the chemo and radiation can melt it away.

This film scene isn't fiction for one of my seniors - Tim - who did the same exact thing, two years ago. (Except he used very clean trimmers of course!)

In tenth grade, Tim was diagnosed with advanced stages of Hodgkins Lymphoma, and had to complete the year through home-tutoring and painful cancer treatments. He returned his junior year and organized the first ever PC Relay for Life, which raised over $43,000 dollars for the American Cancer Society. He and I were the speakers at Relay's opening ceremonies, and formed an instant bond. We were both thrilled that he was in my English class this year, and for the past two weeks, we have been working on his college essay.

Tim started his college essay with a memory from the day his pediatric oncologist told him, "you have cancer" for the first time. At this point, his immediate thought did not turn to the fear of dying, but to the fear of going bald. Apparently, Tim was absolutely obsessed with his hair and couldn't imagine living without it. Eventually, he decided that he needed to be the one to take his hair - not the cancer... so first he gave himself a Mohawk, and then he shaved his head.

Having the privilege of getting to know this young man, I can unequivocally state that Tim's spirit and strength could outmatch a follically endowed Samson in any battle - any day of the week.

So I think the mythology got it backwards. Hair in and of itself does not pass along secret powers to its owner... rather it is the act of losing one's hair in a deadly, knockdown-dragout fight against an invisible enemy that makes one truly heroic.

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