A reflection on St. Baldrick’s: more than just awareness

Senior Trenton Pham reflects on the experience of shaving his head for St. Baldricks. Credit: Tracie Pham.

Trenton Pham

Senior Trenton Pham reflects on the experience of shaving his head for St. Baldrick’s. Credit: Tracie Pham.

Usually it’s useless to remember what your hair actually does for you. Take a look at how society uses it: I’ve seen hair portrayed in the most exaggerated fashions whether it’s on the cover of a teen magazine, across the school hallway or in the strange photos one sees on the internet.

When one thinks about it simply, hair is a decoration that requires a certain amount of shampoo and conditioner to keep it both crisp and clean, and sometimes even things like designer brand highlights or dye are added into the mix (for other people, obviously, not me).

Since it seemed true that this was all hair was for, coming from a culture where appearance plays a heavy-handed role in how successful one is, I never really thought about the importance of my hair.

Which is why I decided to sign up early for the St. Baldrick’s event that happened last Sunday at the Four Points in Ventura Harbor.

I was partially coerced into the whole affair by several of my friends, who also ended up being there the same time that I was, though a personal desire to help cancer patients also factored into the equation. I figured at the time, since I cared little for my hair, it would be better off with someone who doesn’t share the same fortune. I thought it would serve well in hiding their shame.

Once everyone got their T-shirts and the first half of their “before/after” picture, the actual shaving became apparent the moment I sat on the chair. The shaving itself was physically painless. I could see my hair falling off in bundles at my feet and in my lap, but I was too focused on the clipper and worrying that it would cut me somehow; it was something that I didn’t consider before.

The clipper, subsequently, felt warm as it pressed against my skin, but as it traversed the many imperfections and bumps on my head it left a trail of cold air. I thought it was merely a temporary discomfort and that the cold would pass soon, but after a few minutes, it was still there.

In fact, I paid little attention to the fact that a person’s head isn’t perfectly round until that moment too. Then, several minutes later, I started to notice other things. They are tiny things, so minuscule to an average person that it would be considered weird if they did notice it.

However, at this point I’m not average: I’m exposed; exposed to the warmth of the ceiling lights as I take the second half of my “before/after” picture, to the freezing sea breeze that scraped across my head like pin needles as I went outside, to the looks of acquaintances who assume that I have some sort of illness but are too afraid to ask why I’m bald, to the oblong shape of my head that I’m still not used to even when looking at the mirror several times in one day. My own mother couldn’t even discern me from the crowd when she was taking pictures of the whole ordeal.

I couldn’t recognize the elements that my hair hid from me, nor could I recognize myself. To put it simply, I was burning with the shame of being naked in public, figuratively speaking of course. My head was bare, imperfect, and open for the world to observe. Briefly, I wondered if my friends had the same reaction to this as well.

Then, I started to think about cancer patients and exactly what they have to go through. Those who undergo chemotherapy suffer more than just hair loss. As someone having my head shaved for St. Baldrick’s, I only suffer having my hair taken away from me.

I don’t have the risk of catching a cold that my immune system suddenly can’t defend against, nor the high chance of vomiting that pins you at the nearest toilet for hours at a time and none of the physical debilitation or hypersensitivity, either. The St. Baldrick’s experience was physically painless, yet it made me think.

As it turns out, being bald not only has its advantages and disadvantages but also some sobering implications. I now have to sleep with a beanie on in order to fend off the cold, but on the bright side, I no longer have to use shampoo or a towel for my head; showering is certainly easier. Hats fit a little better, and I don’t have to feel bad about bed hair, helmet hair, headphone hair or any other kind of hair that results from wearing things on it.

It’s a liberating feeling.

However, I also have to worry about getting chills, sunburn and weird looks from my friends for several long months before my hair grows back, which probably won’t happen until after the summer is over so I’ll be walking with my graduating class with a head that’s still reasonably hairless. I didn’t think THAT far into it, but the fact that someone else may be reaping more benefits with my hair than I possibly could is definitely worth it.

Even as I sat in my room for a couple minutes after the event I still felt amazed about exactly how I should feel about everything that happened. I wouldn’t say that part of my soul died with my lost hair, because that’s not why I was so contemplative.

Instead I realized that, indeed, hair is a very important part of not only society, but also how you experience the world. No longer do you feel a chilling breeze through the crevices of your head, nor the prying eyes of others who can only appreciate you at a distance. There’s no reason for a balding patient to feel that they are different from society; though hair itself would seem to be a vain attribute, having such desires is what makes us all human.

So, I’m proud that I shaved my head that day, despite the changes in my life and the funny looks my friends involuntarily give me. It’s a wonderful event with a great cause and an example of an old adage: you don’t truly realize the value of things until you lose them.

What do you think?