Nearly 60 of them shifted in their seats as she stood front and center, brushing her hair out of her face with the back of her hand. Five dozen fifth grade boys and girls listened as best they could to the smiling sandy blond before them.
–OK, I want to tell you about some stuff that is happening to me.
And then she told her classmates about cancer and the new tumor and chemotherapy and how she might lose her hair and how she’s going to wear scarves because she shopped at Nordstrom with her dad and how she uses her iPad when she gets the new chemo. She shared it all and answered questions.
–Does it hurt when they use the needle?
–Well, it hurts for a little bit … but only for a minute.
–Do they poke you in the arm?
–No. They use my port.
She pulled her shirt collar down and showed them.
–See this bump? That’s my port. That’s where they poke me when I get chemo. And it doesn’t hurt as much as when they poke me in the arm.
Then a boy told her that his mom had breast cancer and had chemotherapy. He said she lost her hair, but it grew back. And Jordan told him she knew how he felt because she knew someone who had breast cancer, too. It didn’t strike her as odd at all that she empathized with him by speaking of another survivor instead of speaking of herself.
Her teachers suggested that she address the class and share her experience. Knowing that Jordan would soon lose her hair, they thought it might help to prepare the class–to share a chapter from her life so that they could understand the coming changes. Jordan didn’t bother to share the experience with us until a couple of days later, somewhat matter-of-factly. When I asked her how it made her feel, she told me it was alright. “It’s good that they know,” she said. When I asked her if talking about it made her feel uncomfortable, she shot back, “why would I be?” And I had no answer.
She is beginning to lose her hair. It isn’t noticeable, but her brush is filling up with more wispy strands of flax than usual. Blond strands are accumulating on her shirts and on her pillow. It occasionally makes her melancholy, but she moves on quickly. Yesterday morning she approached me in the kitchen.
–Dad, tell me if you agree with mom or no?
It’s never good when she asks me these questions. I know, of course, that Jeanette has vetoed something.
–I told Mom that I want to shave my head today. Do you think that’s a good idea?
She was backlit by the morning light, and all I could see in the silhouette was a thick muss of hair. It looked more golden than usual in that light–and none of it appeared thin. I paused for a minute because I couldn’t really process what she just said to me.
–Sweetheart, why would you shave your head today?
–Because my hair is falling out, Dad. You know, when it starts to fall out you shave it.
I really didn’t mean to laugh. It wasn’t funny. She was aware of the hair taking leave and she was doing what some suggested was a good solution. But she was also jumping the gun.
–Honey, you don’t have to shave your head. That’s only if you want to, and you should only really consider it when enough of it has fallen out that it’s noticeable. Some people do it because they’d rather not have bald spots or patches of thinness. But you still have a full head of hair. I don’t think you should shave it today.
She sized me up for a moment and let her eyes dart around the room.
–Okay. If you think so. So, you agree with mom?
–If mom told you to wait, then yes, I agree with mom.
–Can we have some tea?
And she was on to the next subject.
She is doing well, coping well, and looking well. She returned to school on Tuesday and bid farewell to the summer. After attending opening day, she missed Wednesday to visit the hospital and have blood work done. Her counts are very strong, a relief to everyone. Next week she’ll step up her schedule and start visiting the clinic twice a week for blood work. And the week after she is scheduled to receive another dose of Cytoxan.
Nagging somewhere in my mental ether is the dreaded realization that October is merely a few weeks away. Though we ended the October curse in 2007, I’m superstitious and the present cosmic conditions are not ideal. Hope, however, rests with the girl. She’s found a dose of serenity. That’s not a metaphysical assessment. That’s the only way I know how to describe her mood.
If she is afraid, she shows no sign of it. Every day she surprises me with outbursts of maturity. It’s breathtaking to watch her in action. Jordan gets it done. She commands her soul to crest with the waves of misfortune instead of turning over to them. That’s not to say she’s a perfect angel. In fact, she drives us all crazy at times. A soul with that big a will can challenge the calmest of nerves. But I, for one, am inspired by how she navigates the rough seas of reality. She’s willing to shave her head when it’s adorned with beautiful blond tresses and prepared to share her experience in front of naturally judgmental pre-adolescent minds. Summon your dictionary and lookup ‘bold’, there may be a picture of Jordan embedded in the copy.