During the course of the blogging scholarship contest last fall I received hundreds of e-mails from all over the world. Many people wrote to offer their support, but many wrote to share their breast cancer and other cancer stories and experiences with me. I heard from other mothers in law school, other bloggers, the mothers of friends, and friends of friends.
One day a woman contacted me who was the friend of a friend of my mother-in-law who also just happened to be a photographer. She said that she wanted to help me see my baldness in a different light and she proposed the idea of doing a photo shoot. She wanted, she said, to allow me to see myself the way that others saw me. I thought that I was already doing that. But despite some trepidation at having my picture taken with no hair, I agreed. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin, which is where Randy’s parents lived at the time, so one day a couple of weeks later we all jumped into the car and headed up to their house.
Jackie, the photographer, uses natural light in her photographs and came armed for bear with her camera and various screens which she set up all over the house and yard. She took shots of all of us together, some of me with each of the kids, and some of just me. She was so nice and made us all feel very comfortable as she shot picture after picture of all of us. I liked her immensely and I felt like I had known her for years rather than just for a couple of hours by the time she left. After she was done, I thought about how generous she was to give me such a great gift. At the same time, I wasn’t sure that I really wanted to see the photos because I wasn’t sure how I would feel. I could hardly look at myself in the mirror, and I didn’t really know if I wanted to look at permanent images of myself as a cancer patient. I thought that it was something that I might be glad I did after a few years had passed, but I didn’t really know for sure.
A week or so later Jackie sent some proofs to me via e-mail. The pictures were stunning, even though it was quite difficult for me to look at them. I was excited to see what she was going to do with them from there.
The craziness of the holidays came and went and suddenly I was in the middle of a busy spring semester and soon I forgot about the pictures. Life caught up with Jackie, too, and a few big projects came up for her and both of us let the pictures fall by the wayside.
Last month, just before I left for the 3Day, I received an e-mail from Jackie with the completed pictures attached. It was completely unexpected and I was a little nervous about opening the files. I didn’t know how I would react and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to see any images of myself as I looked in the middle of chemotherapy.
I opened up the files, however, and found myself speechless and in tears. The images of my family were beautiful. Jackie is truly an artist and did a wonderful job with the photographs.
The more I looked at them, however the more I realized what an amazing gift she had given me. She had succeeded in doing something that I didn’t think was possible because I didn’t believe that there was something that I couldn’t see. When I looked at Jackie’s photographs, for the very first time I saw myself in a completely different way than I did when I was actually bald.
Looking at those images of myself was quite an amazing experience, actually, and I think that is because when I didn't have hair there was absolutely no way I could see anything but that. It felt so awful...it really was one of the most difficult things psychologically that I have ever experienced. The whole time I was dealing with it--and even still today--people would tell me that I looked good, that I could pull off the bald look, that I looked so much better than I thought I did. Those comments made me feel better and I appreciated the thought and feeling behind them so much, but now I realize that I never, ever believed them. I was certain that people were just saying that to be kind and supportive. When I look at these pictures, for the very first time I can see myself the way everyone else saw me. I can see ME. I can see why they thought I was so strong and bold to be able to do the bald thing.
I hated having no hair. It was so painful and difficult and yet I can't even see that when I look at these images of myself and my family. Even while Jackie was taking the pictures I felt so self-conscious and I don't think I believed even then that I would actually like them or that I would really be able to see anything different from what I saw in the mirror every morning. And yet, I do. I see it now.
My cousin Jenny shaved her head a couple of weeks ago and posted some pictures of herself on her blog. When I first saw the photos, I was immediately struck by how beautiful she looks. She looks just like the gorgeous cousin I’ve known for 30-some years. Although she doesn’t have hair, I only see Jenny when I look at her. Now I know that is exactly what everyone else saw when they looked at me, but I didn’t realize it until I saw these pictures.
I won't be shaving my head tomorrow, but I am deeply grateful to Jackie for showing me to me.
If you are anywhere near the Madison, Wisconsin area and need a photographer, you can find Jackie’s contact information on her website at www.studioqonline.com. She does amazing work, as you can see below, and I highly recommend her!
One of the posts on my original blog was about how I cut my law school case books to make them smaller and more portable. I got the idea from another law student's blog long before I started school, and I have cut my books every semester since I've been in school. Frank recently left a comment to let me know that he decided to cut his books, too, and he sent me a link to a YouTube video that he made about how to do it. I bind mine differently than he does (I break each book up into small sections and then have those spiral bound), but the end result is a smaller, lighter book.