Theresa Britt took a seat after closing time in the salon where her daughter works in preparation for the shortest haircut of her life.
Megan had a number five blade ready to do the job, but as Britt ran her hands through her hair, it began to fall out in small clumps on its own.
“It made me lose my breath,” said Megan, who finished the job off professionally with tears in her eyes.
The 20-year-old struggled internally, watching her mother take on breast cancer, but on the outside she made every move necessary and then some to make sure her mom knew she wasn’t going through it alone.
Megan drove her mother to all her appointments, justifying skipping a few classes to do so. During chemo treatments, Megan and her mom would slip away into a tiny room with a single bed in the hospital and cuddle.
“Mom’s real small, but I have meat on my bones so it was kind of a tight squeeze at times,” Megan said with a laugh.
Britt discovered the news of her illness just days before Megan’s 20th birthday. They went out to dinner as planned where the situation was laid on the table. Britt’s other child, 19-year-old Erick, was speechless.
“It’s not very often you see an 18-year-old boy cry, especially in public,” his older sister said. “I know that it really hit him, too.”
Erick also played an instrumental role in helping his mom whenever he could.
“If it had not been for them, I wouldn’t have gotten through this as well as I did,” said Britt, who is divorced from her children’s father.
Britt has been diagnosed most recently of any cancer survivor in the group of 14 traveling to Mount Everest this month. Her hair is just starting to come back. In fact, Megan gave her the first haircut since her treatments finished earlier this week.
The surgeries and the therapy didn’t just take a toll on her physically, but also mentally, emotionally, sexually. You name it.
“My self image was completely blown out of the water,” Britt said.
Britt has worked as a radiation therapist at Mercy Medical Center for over 25 years. After returning to work following her treatment, she noticed many curious patients observing her looks.
“Patients will say, ‘I like your haircut. Do you have your haircut that way because you’re supporting cancer patients?’” Britt said.
She’s gotten to know cancer way too well. But when she was diagnosed herself, all the advice, all the things she’d ever told patients, she found difficulty in telling herself.
“I still have some demons I’m dealing with,” Britt said.
Even though she knows it’s not logical, Megan couldn’t help her reaction when she found out the news.
“You’re a cancer nurse,” Megan thought. “You’re not supposed to get cancer.”
The hard lesson was learned. It can happen to anybody. Although it is too recent to reflect on the experience as if it’s in the distant past, Britt is back to work, helping patients like she always has, but with a little more emotion.
“I cry with them all the time and I’m a big, big hugger,” she said. “If I ever get to the point in my work where I can’t cry with my patients, it’s time to move on.”
Britt told of a recent staff meeting in which they were informed that hugs would no longer be condoned in the office.
“I’m not going to stop,” she said proudly.
Attitude seems to be everything when it comes to cancer. Britt could likely be forgiven for leaving her line of work as it provides a constant reminder of her battle. But she doesn’t. She cares. She cries. She hugs.
Her daughter Megan takes after her. She’s only 20 and could be forgiven for focusing on her personal life and feeling helpless. But she helps more and more. She’s been there for the haircuts and the treatments and the cuddles and the tears.
After her mother’s hair fell to the floor, she evaluated the new look.
“She’s very beautiful, and I think her personality makes her even more pretty from the inside out,” Megan said. “And now that her hair’s short, you don’t focus on her hair, you just focus on how pretty she is.”
Questions or comments on this story? Email the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org