This past Sunday, Kwiatek hosted a "shave party" at her home for me and a few of my closest friends. When I woke up that morning, it was evident I was dreading this day more than I really knew. To put it bluntly, Sunday was devastating. I was in a funk since Friday which was initiated by a doctors appointment that didn't go badly, but just reinforced the fact I have breast cancer and will need to "manage" it for the rest of my life. On a better note, Jessica, the PA, was tickled I did well after my first chemo treatment and pleased with my blood work from that day.
It was my idea to cut my hair before it started to fall out. I knew that I could not emotionally handle having my long, thick hair fall out in clumps, so I decided to take control. I will be honest, I almost backed out literally a thousand times but I knew in my heart and soul, I had to do this. I had to gather the strength, courage, and pride to let it go. Let my hair go, let my emotions go, just let it all go...
Below is an entry from Kwiatek's personal blog about the shave party. As she is truly a talented writer, her words captured what transpired that day. Also, a personal thank you to Matt Voshell, Kwiatek's fiance, who captured these powerful photographs.
My Little G.I. Jane
Today was the day I had been grasping for the courage to make it through. Today was Jenn's brunch/shave party. She had made the decision to shave her head before cancer took it from her. She believed it would be much too emotional to watch it fall out. She didn't want to do the cutting in her home, so I opened my house to her and five of her closest girl friends. Jenn had agreed to let Matt photograph the brunch in order to document this moment in her journey, so he was also in attendance. The girls arrived at 11am (Jennifer Lewis, Lola Han, Susan Ernst, Chanda Keesecker, Joanna Harris) with food in hand and a brave smile on their faces. They knew in their hearts that today would be tough.
Jenn arrived with one of her closest friends Chanda who several years ago, attended my Pink Martini Night fundraiser in D.C. to support my journey. Jenn was anxious and her stomach had been acting up. We all sat, ate and got a mimosa in our systems. We talked about kids, music, Jasper in his cute little pink shirt for his Aunt Jenn and everything except the reason why we were there.
I was sitting on the floor with Jenn in front of me. My jaw tightened ... I knew what was coming next. OMG, I'm going to have a panic attack in front of everyone, right here in my living room. Just as it began building inside me, Jenn said, "OK, let's get going." I snapped out of the internal spiral and moved into action.
Jenn sat on the hassock while I tied her hair into ponytails all over her head. Her hair is so thick that we had 10 ponytails total. Susan and I then began braiding all the ponytails. Jenn had decided that if her hair was long enough, she wanted to donate it. This is how the organizations prefer you send the hair to them.
Once the braided ponytails were in place, we moved into the bathroom.
me: "OK, are you ready?"
Jenn: "Yes, just cut it."
me: "Do you want to cut the first one?"
me: "OK, sugar. Take a deep breath."
I cut the first braid, kissed Jenn on the cheek, hugged her and told her that I loved her. I said, "You're being so brave. It's OK to cry."
Next was Chanda, she cut the second braid and Jenn began to cry. The process was overwhelming and surreal for Jenn, but despite the tears we kept moving. Each girl took a braid, cut it and then loved on Jenn. After they moved through the bathroom, they met each other in the living room and hugged while crying and comforting one another. I cried. I didn't cry because I was recalling my own experience when I shaved my head, but because I genuinely hurt for one of my best friends. And I knew EXACTLY how she was feeling. My heart ached hearing her whimpers, but I knew we had to push through it and once her hair was gone she would feel a sense of relief.
Once all the braids were gone, the tears had passed. I took out the little pink Wahl Pink Peanut clippers I purchased for Jenn and we trimmed her hair with the 1/2 inch cutting guide. She sat silently as I ran the clippers over her head. I was trying to do it as quickly as I could, but you have to move the clippers slowly, otherwise they don't have a chance to cut. Within 15 minutes, Jenn's hair was gone. I took the braids and stacked them on the sink. I saw Jenn look at them and at herself quickly in the mirror. It will take time before she will look in the mirror and recognize herself. I took the towel with all the hair collected and shook it on my balcony. That way she didn't have to deal with the anxiety of seeing it on the floor or in the sink. Hopefully the neighborhood birds and bunnies will be able to use the hair for their homes.
We had a group hug and then the girls wanted to play with Jenn's scarves and wig. Jenn was a new woman. She sat on the floor in the living room while the girls surrounded her and helped her learn how to tie her head scarves. She looked emotionally drained, but relieved that this was over. We ate cupcakes, had another round of mimosas and enjoyed the remainder of our time together.
Once everyone had left, I cleaned the bathroom. The ten braids sat on the bathroom sink. I measured them and seven were long enough (nine inches) to donate to Pantene Beautiful Lengths. I kissed each one and placed them gently in a Ziplock bag and then a padded envelope.
Matt and I looked through the photos from the day and once again I was moved to tears. I wasn't crying because I was sad, but because I was so proud of Jenn and moved by the love and support of Jenn's friends. I know she will get through this on the wings of her angels.