I have a buddy whose teenage son is planning to shave his head. He has a good friend who was just diagnosed with lymphoma, and he wants to do something to show his friend that he really cares. He wants to somehow share his friend’s suffering.
I’ve heard lots of other stories of people shaving their heads to show solidarity with a friend or loved one struck by cancer. First off, let me say that I think this type of action comes of nothing but good intentions. I admire people who are willing to do such things for the people they love. It’s great when a cancer patient has people around them who are willing to go the extra mile.
But before you start shaving, I think it’s important to ask the cancer patient how they feel about such things. Will having a friend who’s also bald make him feel better? Or will he feel guilty that his friend shaved his head? Will he think it’s a way of poking cancer in the eye, or will he be embarrassed?
Also, I wonder if these gestures, though well-intentioned, run the risk of inadvertently minimizing the real experience of cancer.
Like, in my friend’s son’s case: Even if he shaves his head, he will not experience the bone-crushing nausea and fatigue caused by chemo. He will not sit out from gym class because he’s afraid that his chemo port might get knocked or damaged. My friend’s son is not faced with the terrifying reality of having cancer. Cancer is so, so much more than just losing your hair.
I guess what I’m saying is that when you’re trying to figure out how to respond to a loved one’s cancer, make sure to ask them what they want. Take their circumstances and their point of view into account. Remember it should be about what the person facing cancer needs and wants. Before you do anything drastic, just ask.
And if they do love the idea of having a buddy in baldness, remember to make it clear that you know their suffering goes way beyond losing hair – and that you’ll be next to them through all of it.