Why shaving my head to support my cousin was the best thing I’ve ever done

I’ve done some things in my life that I thought I would never do. In high school, I marched in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Walt Disney World’s Magic Music Days Parade. I am utterly terrified of roller coasters, but with the encouragement of my friends, I rode the Hulk (to make the experience more nerve-racking, the roller coaster broke down right before catapulting us out of an inclined tunnel). I have two tattoos, even after years of telling myself that I would never get inked.

And finally, I shaved my head to support Loren, my then 3-year-old cousin who had been diagnosed with leukemia, a form of cancer. It took only five days after shaving my head for me to realize that what I had decided to do was a blessing in disguise. I knew the experience was going to turn me into a different woman.

Loren was diagnosed on July 4, 2013. That night, amidst the celebration of our nation’s birth, my sisters and I tearfully made a pact to support Loren in any way we could. Though Loren is our cousin, we are as close as sisters, and Loren tells anyone who will listen that that’s what we are.

My youngest sister, Nitza, decided to shave her head as well. My other sister, Veronica, opted to grow her hair long enough to be able to donate it to an organization. Nitza and I mentally prepared ourselves. We decided that would have no hair for as long as Loren did.

What would we look like? How would we feel? Would we still feel beautiful? How would Loren look? And more importantly, would Loren be okay?

It was December 8, 2013, when Loren, Nitza, and I shaved our heads. I offered to go first, mainly because I already had a pixie cut. It didn’t take long for the hairdresser to shave my head. I thought I wouldn’t feel much of a difference, but I did. The first few minutes of being bald were shocking, slightly disorienting, then surprisingly liberating — but I still felt like a woman.

Nitza was up next, and I could only imagine how she felt. She’d had long hair all her life. Her beautiful curls gracefully dropped to the floor. Nitza didn’t shed a tear — she smiled at Loren and told her she was just getting a haircut.

Then it was Loren’s turn. She knew what was about to happen and began to cry loudly. Her father picked her up and sat her on his lap. He held her tightly as she kicked and screamed, “No!” over and over again. Her mother was in the corner, sobbing, as my mother consoled her. The hairdresser repeatedly ran the buzzer over Loren’s head. The buzzer didn’t stop, and neither did the tears.

Eventually, silence came, along with piles of hair on the floor. Loren stepped down from her father’s lap and looked around the room. As heartbroken as we were, Nitza and I went to her immediately.

“They cut off my hair,” Loren said, her sad eyes gazing into ours. My sister and I told her that the hairdresser had cut off our hair, too, but that we all looked the same. We told her we looked beautiful.

It didn’t take long for Loren to want to play again. We ran around the living room, trying to catch paper butterflies being thrown in the air. I picked up Loren and spun her around. We smiled and laughed, as if nothing was lost. Despite it being perhaps the most traumatic occurrence in her life so far, she was still shining bright, her spirit unbroken. In that moment, hope was instilled in me, and I immediately knew she was going to be okay.

As the days went by, the blessing began to show itself to me. I felt as if I was reborn with new eyes, a new mind, and a new heart. The trees were greener, and the flowers were richer in a myriad of colors. I smiled at the simplest things. When the wind came, its embrace was more loving than before.

I also became aware of how people were treating one another. Some days I witnessed acts of kindness. Other days I heard the exchange of hurtful words and judgements being made. Believe it or not, a handful of people frowned upon my decision to support Loren the way that I did.

Before I shaved my head, I was told, “I don’t understand why you’re going to do it. It doesn’t make sense.” After I shaved my head, one family member didn’t look at or speak to me for two weeks.

When love was not shown, either to myself or other individuals, I wished that the world could feel the love that I was feeling — love that made my heart swell. I soon realized that I didn’t have to wish, because I could share it myself.

I started to smile at strangers who looked like they needed it. When a friend was in distress, I listened. I gave hugs to everyone I knew. When someone asked for my help, I was there to lend a hand. I learned to be thankful and to forgive. By giving love to Loren and helping her through a tough time, she helped me more than I ever could’ve imagined.

Loren, now five years old, is currently in remission, has gorgeous, shoulder length hair, and is attending school.

Selma Gonzalez is a 25-year-old woman on a journey to find her authentic self. She recently moved to Austin, Texas, to live with her Prince Charming, whom she will marry in the fall. She loves everything Disney and Star Wars; she’s a nerd, basically. She is a bookworm and a writer. She also has two adorable cocker spaniels. Read her blog here and check out her Instagram here

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