The Thing About Hair

“Why does chemo always have side effects like sickness and hair loss?
Why not ‘invisibility’ or ‘spontaneous orgasms’?”
Lawrence Wray

Pardon me for going a bit off-topic here. This is not a post about finding inspiration, being creative, or facing fear.  It’s about sibling love and the longing for beautiful hair and the lack thereof.

As I sit on my bed late in the evening hours, I often think about the people I love. I think of the good, the bad, the misspoken words, and what was never said. Because it’s our relationships that sustain us and provide the inspiration, creativity, and courage to propel us forward. Life gets busy and complicated and we get absorbed in our own lives. Then life throws us a sucker punch that makes us re-evaluate our relationships.

In May 2021 my older sister, Melanie, was diagnosed with Angioimmunoblastic T-Cell Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Notice how the word cancer is not even in that diagnosis, as if saying the word is tantamount to saying Bloody Mary 3 times in a mirror. The relationship with my sister over the years has been tenuous. In my mind, she was the responsible one that could do nothing wrong, and I was the rebellious, bratty klutz that did everything wrong. It didn’t matter what I did or didn’t say or do; it was going to be wrong, no matter what. Perhaps we overanalyzed everything when there was nothing to analyze, but there was always love. The desire for the approval of one’s family is very strong and often causes strife, however, cancer has a way of bitch slapping you in the face to remind you that love is not about what you said or do, it’s the simple act of being there. Sometimes being present physically is not possible, but being there emotionally, spiritually, or even metaphysically is.

Melanie and Missy as children holding their dolls at Christmas. Melanie holds Chrissy and Missy holds Tinkerbell.
“Where’s the hair?”

One Christmas when we were little, Melanie received this beautiful red-haired doll named Crissy. Crissy had long shiny red hair that went down to her knees, but her hair could be shortened by turning a wheel built into Crissy’s back. Depending on how Crissy dressed, her hair could be changed to match any situation she was in. They also dressed Crissy in a beautiful orange lace dress with bell sleeves. I received a stuffed Tinkerbell that had a pull string to make her say, “All you need is faith, trust, and a little bit of pixie dust.” No amount of faith, trust, and pixie dust was going to give my doll long hair to play with or beautiful clothes to change. It didn’t take long for me to get a hold of that Crissy doll and tangle her hair up so badly that it had to be permanently cut short. That wheel on her back was useless. Crissy wasn’t fun anymore, as my sister continued to remind me over the years. Tinkerbell never flew, never did magic, or change her clothes, but just like time flying by, her recording sped up to chipmunk speed to the point of becoming garbly-gook.

Crissy doll sitting on a shelf
The New/Old Crissy

20 years later while shopping at antique stores I came across a Crissy doll that worked. I bought the doll, wrapped it up, and mailed it to my sister for her birthday. The new/old Crissy now sits on a bookshelf in my sisters’ home. Crissy is missing her shoes but is still wearing that beautiful orange lace dress with bell sleeves. To this day I love the color orange and bell sleeves. The bigger the bell, the better.

Then 10 days ago I made the 2-hour trek to visit Melanie, who was home after a week in the hospital. I was eager to see her and never knowing what to expect from our visits; I prayed I wouldn’t mess it up. As soon as I walked into the house, she asked me to shave her hair. Wow, what do you do with that? I stupidly replied, “Just like Crissy?” Luckily she laughed, so this time maybe I got it right. It honored me, she asked me, but also filled with trepidation. A lot of Mel’s hair had already fallen off after 2 rounds of chemotherapy, and it was now time for her to take control over the situation. With the grooming razor in hand, I ran it across the top of her head, shearing the hair away while thinking about Crissy. I choked back the tears and admired the beautiful strength that my sister was displaying. Her resolve to beat cancer and to take control of it is her crowning glory, not her hair. My sister may be more like that Tinkerbell doll with no hair to brush, but she is turning more into a Wonder Woman every day.

My sister lives on her own. Her husband, Tom, passed away in 2018, one year after his second kidney transplant. She has a thing for frogs and has held to the belief that the fable The Frog Prince got it wrong. Kiss a lot of frogs before you find your toad, or is it you have to kiss a lot of toads before you find your frog? Either way works. In honor of Melanie’s love for frogs, I have created a few “Frog” products that are available in my online store. All the profits from the sale of these items will go towards Melanie’s battle. Cancer takes a lot out of people and it takes a lot out of a person’s wallet, as well.

I have faith that Melanie can win this battle and trust that her doctors’ are providing the best treatment. Finding a bag of non-carcinogenic pixie dust is proving to be a problem.

Melissa Whitaker

Artist | Illustrator | Photographer Currently Looking for her lost shaker of salt. 🍈

9 thoughts on “The Thing About Hair”

  1. Such a wonderful tale of sisterly love and so beautifully written. Hugs to you both and continued prayers for Melanie’s complete recovery.

  2. Penny Wilkens

    So beautiful Missy! Melanie has proven to her beauty and strength a million times over! Love you both – and Momz!

  3. Beautifully written. Melanie is a beautiful lady. I was blessed to know her in college. Prayers for her healing continue.

  4. Barbara Travers

    What can I say? I am so fortunate to have 2 incredible daughters who seem to always find a pathway to conquer life’s struggles with dignity, integrity and love.

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