For Those Who Don’t Have A Choice
Stories from eight ordinary people who believe in doing a simple action to remember and support those who have succumbed to one devastating disease.
We’ve all had that feeling. That feeling you get when you walk into a room and every face looks up at you — silent and still; all eyes wide open, time frozen.
It’s a feeling that burns and boils throughout your body, stinging your neck and your ears, building a giant lump in your throat.
…Yet that feeling eventually fades, and you can finally relax and go about your business…
But what if that feeling never vanished? What if it was every place you walked into that made you feel that way? What if one of those places was looking into your mirror?
Appearance is one of the thousands of discomforts cancer causes a person, and is likely the least of the worries for those who are battling the disease.
To help support and honor the victims, fighters, and survivors of cancer, eight friends acted together and lost a little bit of their self identity with the idea in mind to eliminate the fear of appearance and stand up for those who don’t have a choice.
“I didn’t need somebody to do this for, but I’ve been thinking about Ginny throughout the day. [If she were here right now,] I’d tell her I love her and give her a hug.”
Sara’s first experience with cancer involves a memory that a lot of people can associate with in seeing another person who previously had hair, without it.
Recalling the memory, Sara explained:
“I remember we were on vacation in Texas and my aunt came out of the room next to us without a bandanna on or anything and she didn’t have any hair.”
“My mom was saying, ‘Try not to stare,’ but I just remember thinking, ‘Why doesn’t Aunt Betty have any hair?’ ”
“My mom replied, ‘Well she has cancer,’ and I just said, ‘What’s cancer?”
“I think the fear was that I was going to gawk and ask questions and make the situation awkward, because it’s a really sensitive subject, and five-year-olds aren’t particularly sensitive.”
When asked about how it now felt to see herself bald that day, Sara said that she was completely overwhelmed with emotion.
“I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry or what. I wouldn’t say I was happy or sad — I was just emotional.”
She said that going out in public made her fearful and nervous, but not nervous from what people said to her, but from what she thought they might say to her.
“I had no idea what people were speculating, if at all, about what my bald head meant about me,” she said.
“While my fear pales in comparison to the actual fear people battling cancer must feel, I feel like I may have a tiny bit more understanding now, at least in the social aspect, compared to before this experience.”
“Everyone in this room is behind you. You’re not battling this alone and are supported by all fronts and all people.”
I like everyone else has been directly affected by cancer in one way or another. Like many, it started out by knowing someone who was diagnosed with some form of cancer. The reality sets in as you become aware of the seriousness of what your friend, loved one, family, etc. is having to deal with. Before you know it, you know another person who has a another form of cancer, and then another person, and another, and another, and so on.
It’s crazy for me to think in the last seven years or so I have known about 15 people who have battled cancer. It’s very hard to witness people going through that and not have the ability to help them.
The idea for this project came one night while debating what to do with my hair, which at the time had gotten to be as long as it had ever been. I’m not one to be vain, but at this particular moment I found myself wanting to “look good,” and have a hair style that was some what appealing to others. Never had I thought this way about my hair.
At that moment I had thought about a friend who lost her hair while undergoing chemotherapy treatment and lost all her hair, as well as another friend who had gone into remission to only find out months later that his cancer was back. At that moment I realized that many people who have to undergo treatment for cancer lose their hair as a very unfortunate side effect.
That has to be hard. Not only do you have to realize that you now have cancer and have a fight ahead of you, but you lose this bit of your self identity.
This idea of cutting your hair to show support for the cancer fighters is not a new idea. Many organizations do this, and many people do this on there own.
I’ve watched girls with beautiful long hair shave all of it off because their sister was fighting cancer. To me that’s a moving notion.
For those of us who participated in this little project wanted to show our support for all of those who have to fight cancer. We happily, and willingly lost a bit of our identity to show that we support all of you who don’t have a choice. We commend you all on your courage to fight the fight you didn’t choose.
Thinking of my friends, family, and anyone who has to deal with the brutality of cancer treatment weighs heavily on my heart.
This project is a small way for us to show our unrelenting support for those who have to fight this battle, and for them to know they are never alone.
“Live your life as much as you can. A lot of people go through [cancer], but there is support for you.”
Zach’s connection to cancer runs extremely close to heart. During his life, his uncle, grandmother, and aunt all have succumbed to the disease, each of them passing away during their battle.
“I did this for my entire family really,” Zach said.
“Mainly though, I wanted to remember my uncle. I watched him battle leukemia for over a year, and it was just horrible.”
Zach’s family held a fundraiser for him right before the holidays in 2015, where all proceeds were to be used for a bone marrow transplant. Sadly his uncle didn’t make it long enough to receive the transplant and passed shortly after.
“That one hit really hard with me,” said Zach.
“He used to take me fishing out on his boat on Lake Erie on Saturday mornings…”
This type of connection and relationship to his family is the complete reason Zach decided to sacrifice his visual identity. He even went a step beyond removing his hair and took advantage of the newly found real estate to do something special for his Uncle Gary.
In recognition of his uncle’s life, Zach had his head tattooed of the orange leukemia ribbon with the years in which he lived directly above it.
A special thanks goes out to Schyler Ames for donating his talents and time to make this possible for Zach.
“There’s not much I can do with money or go there and fix it myself — I can at least support and help as much as I can.”
For a lot of people, finding the money to donate to a specific cause can be difficult. While I don’t have to run through the number of things one has to pay for in life, the fact remains that there is an overwhelming feeling that lingers inside of you when you want to contribute, but you can’t contribute financially.
Embracing the idea of supporting those without a choice, Athena came into this project with open arms, thankful that she could contribute in any way possible.
“If this is the way I can show [support for cancer], I’m going to do it, no questions asked.”
“If I can grow my hair back, I’ll shave it off all again,” she said.
Athena continued and talked about one of her friends at work who is a breast cancer survivor.
“She survived it and can’t even tell she had it,” she said.
When asked what she would say to her if she were in the room right now, she said:
“I’d tell her I’m happy she survived and happy she didn’t give up. She brings so much joy to my life… And then I would hug her.”
Any disease holds countless discomforts for the one diagnosed. Cancer is especially guilty of idea through the action of hair loss, but the fact remains that no matter what your symptoms are, or how that disease dictates your body’s appearance, it does not define you as a person and you are just as beautiful with it as you are without it.
“If I can do this to show my aunt that we’re behind her and not alone in not having to go through this — I’m all for it.”
Jack’s support for those diagnosed with cancer couldn’t be more sincere.
Growing up, cancer wasn’t involved directly with any of his friends or family’s lives, but as he’s gotten older, the disease has become much more prevalent with the ones he knows.
“As I get older and know more people, I obviously find more people that have been affected by it, or have known someone affected by it,” Jack said.
“It’s amazing, really, and I can’t really put it into words.”
The fact he makes is sadly profound. Cancer is a disease so common today, that almost anyone you ask has a connection to it.
To give you a scope, according to the American Cancer Society, about 1,685,210 new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2016.
Roughly 595,690 Americans are expected to die of cancer in 2016, translating to about 1,630 people per day.
“You should really be thankful for what you have and understand what you have. Know that anything can happen and treat every day like it’s the last time you’re going to see someone because it very much could be.”
Jack’s family friend by relationship, “aunt” by name, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a little over a year ago. Her status remains positive, but he knows that could change at any time.
When asked if she was in the room right during his interview, he said:
“I’d want her to know that people support her, people love her, no matter what happens, we’re going to be there until the very end. We’re all praying for her and hoping that everything is going to be alright.”
“Thank you for not giving up, being strong, and being a role model.”
Rob’s first experience with cancer came at a very young age while he was in fourth grade when his great-grandfather passed away from the disease.
“The memory was a little fuzzy, but as I grew older, I gradually learned more about it,” he said.
His connection continued when two of his classmates whom he had grown up with were diagnosed with cancer. Both ended up surviving, and Rob expressed his support and appreciation for the battle that both went through:
“They are two very strong people, and they were definitely in my mind while I was doing this. I think it’s an incredibly strong thing to do.”
“I am here for you. If you need a hug, you need someone to talk to, you need a shoulder — I am that shoulder, I am that hug.”
Aaron’s story is a reminder to us all to not take anyone or anything for granted in our lives, because we only have one, and we must make the most of it.
Not long ago, Aaron’s dad passed away from lung and liver cancer. It was a long and difficult battle, as the cancer ultimately spread throughout almost his body and caused him to shut down not only physically, but also emotionally.
“He sequestered himself to his own apartment, and didn’t really reach out,” Aaron said.
“[If he was in this room right now] I’d tell him, I’m here for you. If you need a hug, you need someone to talk to, you need a shoulder — I am that shoulder, I am that hug.”
As we continued to talk, Aaron mentioned how he could sense the fear that came with losing his sense of identity through shaving his head, but also mentioned the importance of having other around him while he did it.
“Having a group around you, doing it with you, or supporting you doing it, saying ‘Hey, we’re not going to look at you any differently, you’re the same person with or without hair,’ makes a difference. You’re still the same person, hair is not going to change that.”
Through losing this piece of his identity, Aaron talked about how he hopes this act positively influences not just someone diagnosed with cancer, but those who surround that person.
“I hope this helps the people around the disease to talk about it more with the victim. You have to accept it and be strong for them because they’re scared, and they’re losing strength.”
“I support anyone going through this horrible disease and you are not alone.”
During our interview, Alex showed nothing but gratitude towards those whom have succumbed to cancer.
Speaking delicately, he talked about his disdain toward the disease, and offered his full support for those going through tough times.
Alex has been through a lot, as he’s observed his mother fight through breast cancer since he was just a sophomore in high school.
“I obviously have very strong negative feelings towards cancer, and it’s an very unfortunate disease,” he said.
“But she’s fighting it, and she’s a very strong woman.”
Typically sporting a shorter buzzed-cut hair style, Alex mentioned that although the length of his hair isn’t that much different from a normal haircut, he had some heavier feelings this time around knowing that this haircut represented more than just his identity, but the identities of the ones who share the same battle as the one his mother has fought through.
While we might not have the means to support the things we love through dollars and cents, nothing holds us back from showing a sign of appreciation for those who are struggling.
It takes courage for one diagnosed with cancer to wake up and take on the day. They didn’t choose have to struggle, battle, and fight, but there’s nothing they can do.
There is something you can do though.
Take the time out of your day to be thankful. Welcome strangers with open arms. Be supportive of those unlike you, because you don’t know what their struggle could be, or what they’re going through.
Take a moment to pause, reflect, and admire the bravery and determination it takes to live for those who don’t have a choice.