I am the newest Lolly’s Locks employee. I jumped on board in August, and these past few months have been a whirlwind. I graduated from college last May, and spent my summer frantically applying for jobs. When I came across Lolly’s Locks, I knew I had stumbled upon an amazing opportunity. I am a childhood leukemia survivor, so cancer has always been a big part of my life, particularly because it has affected so many of my family members, as well. I read Lolly’s touching story, and I understood immediately why her family carries on her legacy, and I wanted to be a part of it. About a month and a few interviews later, I had my first day.
As a recent college grad, I had heard a million times that the transition to the workforce was daunting and exhausting. I was worried that I would show up every day to perform monotonous tasks, and turn into a working zombie (eat, sleep, work, repeat). I am more than happy to admit that I was wrong. Lolly’s family and friends welcomed me to the team with open arms and every day here at Lolly’s Locks is something new. No two days are the same. With just two of us here in the office, there’s never a dull moment. I am excited to come into work every day and time flies faster than I could have ever imagined.
In just these last few months, we have doubled our number of recipients. We are now up to 265! We are getting 3 or 4 applications a day, and that number is only growing. I spend hours a day on the phone getting to know the women we serve. The population we help is so diverse that every woman gives me a new insight into the world of tackling cancer as an adult. There are a few commonalities though. These women seek our assistance because they want to feel like themselves during a time where their lives have been uprooted by disease, taken over by doctors’ appointments and constant poking and prodding. From us they seek a degree of normalcy, the desire to look in the mirror and see themselves looking back, not an unfamiliar face. Cancer has taken so much from them, whether it be their energy, their appetite, their job, their ability to care for their children, their intimacy with their spouse. These are elements of a woman’s identity, aspects of their lives that prevent them from being able to be themselves.
Hair is external, people-facing, visible, and often eye-catching. Women are frequently described by their hair color, “the blonde one,” or their hair style, “the curly-haired one,” which is likely the root of the psychological effect that hair loss has on many women undergoing chemotherapy. When cancer has already permeated every internal aspect of these women’s lives, why must their appearance, their descriptor, their hair be affected, too?
With this influx of applications that we have received, I have come across something that really irks me. So many of our applicants feel the need to add a qualifier to their reasoning behind wanting a wig, “I am not a vain person, but…” or “I never thought I’d care so much about losing my hair, but….” Vanity isn’t the issue here, privacy is. Normalcy is. It’s frustrating to me that these women feel it necessary to justify their desire to maintain privacy. These women don’t want to explain their cancer diagnosis to everyone they face. They want to carry on their lives as normally as they can, when cancer has invaded many intimate spaces of their lives already. Unfortunately, bald women are more frequently than not associated with illness and that’s what causes the pity and the concern from the public when you see a bald female. They are expected to answer questions about their treatment, or listen to unsolicited advice, just as a result of their appearance. They deserve the undetectable wig that allows them to attend a son’s soccer game and keep the focus on him, or to maintain their work clientele without impending fear that their appearance could hinder business, or to go to the grocery store without facing pity eyes from everyone in the store.
Jaime and I just returned from a trip to the west coast where we were filming some of our recipients for our annual video. This was my first opportunity to meet our applicants in person, and it was an inspiration to see and hear first-hand how they each are overcoming the disease. These women come from all walks of life, live in all different states, work all different jobs, and yet they were each able to tell us the importance a wig had on their lives. For actress Alison, her wig gave her the courage to go to auditions without fear; for Gladis, her wig allowed her to feel like herself in family photos; for Tanyis, her wig helped her children feel more comfortable with her illness; for pregnant Caitlin, the wig prevented stares from strangers. For each of these women their wig gave them the freedom to look in the mirror and see themselves staring back, not a stranger affected by sickness. So to each of these women, we want to extend a thank you for opening up to us about your cancer journey, and for sharing many laughs with us on our trip.
In the office, we frequently talk about our hopes that one day our organization will be put out of business by the acceptance of bald women in our society as a sign of strength, not weakness. We hope that women suffering hair loss as a side-effect of chemotherapy will be able to carry on a day without feeling self-conscious, without the need for a wig to feel normal, but in the meantime, we will continue to work hard to help these women maintain an inkling of normalcy in their cancer-chaotic lives.