An Open Letter to Those Who Wonder Why I Shave

Courtney Moore (right) with fellow St. Baldrick’s shavee and 46 Momma, Bekah Ham (left).

By: Courtney Moore, St. Baldrick’s volunteer, shavee and mom to a childhood cancer survivor

“I don’t get it.”

“How does that help cure cancer?”

“They’re just doing it for attention.”

Since 2010, I’ve shaved my head eight times, and six of them have been with a group of women called the 46 Mommas. We are all mothers of kids who have or had cancer, and we shave to raise money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation and childhood cancer research. Every year after our events have passed, when photos and videos of us are plastered about the internet, I’ve read — and even heard directly — comments criticizing our appearance, our motivation, and our intentions. To be honest, it stings. But it also provides an opportunity to educate people on why we do what we do — why my sisters, at their most vulnerable moment, decide to be brave and go bald.

When someone you love gets cancer, you’ll do anything for them. Anything to help them heal, help them smile, help them move on. When that someone is your child, that urgency to help is magnified. The cruel irony is that you have to give up the most control at the time when you most want to care for and protect them. Because of that, many of us search for opportunities to regain some control, to fight the cancer in our own way. Standing up for our children and raising money for research is what the 46 Mommas choose to do.

Courtney at this year’s 46 Mommas event in Austin, Texas with her two daugters, Georgia and Ivy.

I’ve done this enough times to know how powerful — even life-changing — shaving your head can be, especially for a woman, and most especially for the mother of a child who has or had cancer. Our annual events are unique in that they’re not about shaving as many heads as possible, but about honoring each Momma and her child and giving her the space to have her “moment.”

For many women, there is a lot of emotion attached to their hair, so the decision to go bald is huge, regardless of their child’s status. For some Mommas, this is their first step in taking back some power from childhood cancer or celebrating a milestone in their child’s journey. For others, it is the beginning of their healing as they move through their grief after losing their child. Each woman’s experience is different, but the common end result is positive and purposeful. Every year, there are tears flowing while our Mommas are in the barber chairs, but the tears are always followed by big, brilliant smiles. A bereaved Momma once told me that the minute she stepped out of the chair, she felt like she was “finally coming back to life.” Another, who cut over 30 inches of hair as her healthy daughter sat in her lap, kept rubbing her bald head and repeating, “I don’t know why I didn’t do this years ago!”

Judy (left) shaves in memory of her son Alan, forever 5 and Lisa (right) shaves in memory of her daughter Rayley, forever 1

And I may or may not have been quoted as saying that shaving my head made me feel like I could breathe fire and tear down buildings. It really is that powerful.

As an added bonus to joining the group and doing this crazy thing with us, the Mommas also become part of our sisterhood. We provide a support system for each other that cannot be matched. We have an instant shorthand and just a few words or even a look tell us exactly what our sister is going through. We’ve been there and we will help her navigate her way as well. And we continue to stand by her whether she never joins another event, never shaves her head again or never raises another dollar. We are family forever.

So, to the commenters that say, “they’re just doing it for the attention,” I want to say this…yes, exactly.

We want you to pay attention to our children and all children fighting cancer. We want you to require your representatives in Washington D.C. to pay attention to them, too. We want childhood cancer to be the national priority it should be. If it takes shaving our heads and sharing our stories to help make that happen, we will continue to do so until we have the science, the legislation, and the funding to conquer childhood cancer.

When they say, “how does that help cure cancer?”

I say, through its signature head-shaving events and thousands of other fundraising events, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation has funded over $230 million in childhood cancer research grants since 2005. The 46 Mommas alone have raised over $2 million since 2010 and several Mommas have established St. Baldrick’s Hero Funds that support specific grants of their choosing. This is the latest and greatest research and will help find cures and safer, less-toxic treatments for children fighting cancer now and in the future.

When they say, “I don’t get it.”

I say, frankly, we hope you never have to. But in the meantime, please educate yourself and be a part of the solution. Help us raise awareness, hope and research funds. And if you ever find yourself facing a loved one’s cancer diagnosis, especially a child, we’ll save you a seat in the barber chair.

Support the 46 Mommas by donating to their campaign or sign up to be a shavee at a local St. Baldrick’s event.

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