I jumped into my dad’s car, and we headed to school.
I was 11 years old and in the sixth grade. I had lost all my hair in the latest round of chemotherapy and decided it was time to wear a wig. I’d covered the shoulder-length wig with a blue bandana, and I thought no one would notice.
As I looked over at my dad, I noticed that his hair, which was normally thin and sparse on top, looked unusually thick. It looked like he had grown a whole new tuft of hair on the top of his head. Confused, I stared at his head and then looked away.
Minutes later, while driving, my dad turned to me and said, “Like you, I am wearing a wig. Mine is called a toupee. I thought we could go through this together.”
My heart softened in my chest. Suddenly, I did not feel alone anymore.
As we pulled up to school, he looked at me and said, “Remember, I am wearing one too. It’s okay.” I jumped out of his car.
That same day after lunch, I was on the playground, and a sixth- grade boy came up to me and yelled into my face, “Baldy!” I was shocked and immediately paralyzed. He yelled at me again, “Baldy!”
Next thing I knew, a large group of my classmates had gathered and surrounded this kid. Another boy yelled, “Stop it,” and hit the boy in the face.
In that moment (before the recess teacher broke up the fight and the kids disbanded at the sound of the school bell), I’d felt a sense of community, and I thought, “I am not alone.” Though I felt so different from other kids because I was going through cancer treatment and wearing a wig, I also felt like I was being held up by many of my classmates.
The next week, I started another four-week round of chemotherapy treatments. My mother always took me to the appointments and held my hand and comforted me while the drugs were administered. I would get the drugs on a Tuesday, and then by nighttime I would be sick and vomiting until the middle of the night. Back in the 1970s, there was no anti-nausea drug given with chemotherapy.
My mother never left my side. She slept next to me all night and held my head every time I was sick. She would say, “You are going to be fine.” In the eighteen months that I received chemotherapy, she only missed a few nights. At those times, my sister Nancy would step in and take over.
My mother’s love surrounded me. I felt protected and safe in her presence.
Around this time, I started to pray on my own. My prayer was “God, please let me live to be 20.” I thought that if I lived to be 20, I would see the world. Not long after I started to pray, a warmth and peace filled my being, along with a knowing that I was going to be okay.
I now look back and realize that this warmth, peace, and knowing was God coming into my life. I felt a comfort that was unnamable, but almost tangible, and my heart and spirit relaxed. This peace helped me navigate a scary time in my life.
These were the first times in my life that I was fully conscious of experiencing love. The memories of them are seared into my brain. They were soul shaping and life changing and set me on the course of becoming who I am today.
Love is what life is all about and what really matters. If we are open, love comes to us in many ways. And when we take this love into our being, we feel the love that is ever present, and we become that love out in the world. It is then that we are fully alive.