Pam McKelvy is my new hero. She’s not an actress, humanitarian or teacher. She’s not a scientist, doctor, magician or activist. She’s a news anchor who beat cancer. And she’s not my hero for beating cancer, although on a sheer human level, I’m sure glad she did. No, she is now a woman I admire tremendously because she beat cancer and instead of wearing a wig on the air for thousands of viewers to see after losing her hair due to chemotherapy treatments, she’s letting it all hang out instead. Or, rather, she’s letting what she doesn’t have show front and center.
The WMC-TV newswoman in Tennessee had been wearing a smooth-hair wig, but during a segment about women and their “crowns of glory,” she removed her hair piece to reveal a head of short curls that had recently grown back following her breast cancer treatments, according to Yahoo Shine.
“All right, this is it. This is my new hair,” McKelvy, who had even undergone chemo treatments live on the air, said to the camera.
I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling as if what McKelvy did required some serious courage. I’m not alone in that I’m a woman with a fair amount of vanity as it applies to what lies atop my head. But I’m also not alone in that I’m a woman who has recently come out on the winning side of breast cancer.
When I was told by my gynecologist after my first-ever mammogram in December that I had to go back for another one after some suspicious calcifications were spotted on the film by the radiologist, I cancelled my upcoming haircut appointment. I really didn’t think anything would come of the second mammogram or the subsequent biopsy, but as far as I was concerned, if I did turn out to have cancer, not only did I already decide I would just have both breasts removed, but I would also cut off my hair and donate it to someone else who needed it if chemotherapy were to be part of my treatment.
As luck would (or wouldn’t) have it, I did have cancer. The results came in on Jan. 6. I had both my breasts removed on Feb. 14. And on Feb. 18, I found out the cancer was contained; it wasn’t invasive and I would probably not need further treatment. While an oncologist has yet to confirm the latter 100 percent, what I do know is that if further treatment is required, my hair will most likely remain intact.
I’ve dodged a few bullets since Jan. 6 — the biggest and most critical one being the fact that my cancer was not invasive, and while I will die of something, the cause won’t be something due to my breasts (particularly since they are no longer a part of my body). But I also wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of losing my hair. My life expectancy was my primary goal, but I’d be lying through my teeth if I said there wasn’t some vanity threading my thoughts throughout the whole process. Losing my boobs and my hair? Ugh.
I worried what my young daughters would think when they saw my empty chest. I worried too, though, about how they’d feel about my bald head. My breasts would (and still will be) replaced by silicone implants — and usually covered by shirts, bras and towels for the most part. And my hair would have been replaced by a wig, scarf or hat, if necessary. But while the silicone won’t come off at night, the hats and fake hair would have. And to 2- and 5-year-old little girls used to absentmindedly twirling their mom’s ponytail or stroking her wet hair when she comes out of the shower, it could have been disconcerting and upsetting.
I was prepared to do battle on my behalf and theirs. To do what I needed to do to be in charge of my own dignity while trying to help save someone else’s in the process by chopping off my ponytail so a wig could be made for another’s bald head. It turns out I don’t need to (or at least I hope I don’t). But while I might sound brave with my intentions, the fact is that was one of the scariest prospects to me during this process. Not as bad as losing my breasts, but still a distant second nonetheless.
That McKelvy did it — and not just for her or her own kids, but for thousands of strangers — is simply stunning to me. Admirable. Strong. And just plain generous. To women like me — and to women whose fortunes and health fates are far worse than mine, whose pathology comes back showing invasive cancers that require hair loss and who are facing death from their diagnoses, to have to have their little girls look at them and not understand, be confused and feel scared and sad — I humbly bow my head full of hair to her.
On behalf of my little girls and all those other little girls out there, I say that McKelvy is a reminder that our hair might make us feel good, but it doesn’t define us. Our willingness to give to help others like McKelvy, though, does. Big time.
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