Tribute to Children Battling Childhood Cancer

It has now been one year since our daughter, Keira passed away after battling leukemia most of her life. My husband and I decided to honor her memory and support those children currently battling childhood cancer by shaving our heads. To some, it might seem odd that we waited until after Keira was no longer here to pay this tribute and stand in solidarity with her, but to us, it was fitting to do on the anniversary of her passing. I also wanted to do something that could benefit others so once Keira relapsed in January 2014 I decided that I would grow my hair and then donate it to Wigs for Kids since they allow children that have lost their hair due to cancer treatment to be eligible for their wigs. I had my hair measured at my last appointment and it appeared I would be short of the 12 inches needed to donate. I then asked what would happen if I shaved my head and my stylist confirmed that I already had enough to meet the 12-inch criteria if I shaved my head. That was the extra enticement for me to not only donate my hair but shave my head as well. I figure if Keira didn’t have the choice to lose her hair then I could be strong like her and make the decision to shave my head. I also want a sense of what it is like to be without much hair, particularly being a woman.One of the first things that enter your mind when you hear cancer or chemotherapy is hair loss. What people don’t realize is that it isn’t limited just to the hair on your head, but the patient also loses their eyebrows and eyelashes as well. In Keira’s situation, the hair loss was harder on us than on her. She was born with a full head of beautiful hair and that was always the first thing people commented on when meeting her for the first time. Then it was her beautiful long eyelashes. All of those disappeared within the first few months of her treatment. Fortunately, a lot of babies do not have much hair, sometimes up until age two so it didn’t make Keira out of place.

However, when she relapsed in January 2014 it was significantly harder for me to handle as her mother. Keira was now also three years old (a little girl instead of a baby). She had grown such beautiful long hair. I knew it was going to fall out, but couldn’t handle shaving her head. My husband and I had differing opinions on how to handle her hair. He didn’t want to see her hair slowly fall out and have wisps of hair left. However, he respected my wishes regarding how we handled her hair. I also didn’t want to traumatize her further because I didn’t know how she would react. So we had one of the local hair salons send a stylist to the hospital to cut her hair shorter. Then it started getting bad. It would come out in clumps, not brush well, and she was starting to get bald spots. Once we knew she was going to have surgery to place her ommaya in her head we requested that the surgeons shave her entire head since she would be sedated. Thankfully when she woke up it didn’t phase her at all. She didn’t even seem to notice her hair was gone. To be honest she always hated having her hair washed so I think she was happy she didn’t have to deal with that anymore.

It’s hard when their eyelashes and eyebrows disappear because you notice they look different and it makes them appear more sickly. As soon as those start to reappear they already look healthier. Keira’s eyebrows and eyelashes came back in nicely and she was starting to get the “peach fuzz” I loved so much just before she passed away.

We are excited to honor those that are continuing to battle childhood cancer and hope that we can continue to spread awareness by shaving our heads as others have done before us.

Written by Jenn Kilbane (Keira’s mom)