For many women, our hair is a vital part of who we are and the persona that we present to the world. It’s a symbol of our femininity and something we enjoy styling in our own personal fashion and showing off to others. Many people who suffer from cancer and undergo chemotherapy treatment must give up their hair in exchange for their lives, but it’s hard to imagine a woman shaving her head on purpose. And it’s even harder to imagine two young girls who don’t have cancer shaving their heads of their own free will as well.
But that’s exactly what 10-year-old Kayla and 7-year-old Sophia did in a beautiful act of solidarity for their mother, Joanna McPherson, who was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer.
Joanna, a mother of four and an Air Force colonel, is the epitome of female strength and determination. She was diagnosed with HER2+ breast cancer and traveled to Texas for surgery before beginning chemotherapy treatment. She was open and honest about her treatment with her four daughters and warned them that she may lose all of her hair while undergoing chemo.
While she was gone for surgery, Joanna’s middle two daughters, Kayla and Sophia, got the idea to shave their heads so that their mother wouldn’t have to go through it alone. They ran their plan to shave their heads past their dad first, intending for it to be a surprise for Joanna, but he cautioned them to get her approval first.
When she first heard of the idea, Joanna was against it, believing that the girls would soon lose interest in the plan they seemed so excited about for the moment.
“I was caught off guard,” recalls Joanna. “First, that they were considering it and second, that half of the authorizing agents of the home had already approved this decision. I said ‘Wow! That is very sweet, but I don’t think that you understand what you are asking to do.'”
Joanna told the girls she would think about it and tried persuading them to do something less drastic instead, such as piercing their ears or dying their hair. She made sure to mention that they might get teased by other kids, and she was very clear in articulating that it was okay for the girls to support her in other ways besides shaving their heads.
But eight weeks later, when Joanna finally got sick of constantly losing little chunks of hair and decided to shave it all off, the girls insisted that they were going to do it too.
And so they did. The family made a big event out of it and even got the video camera out while Shawn, the girls’ father and Joanna’s husband, shaved each of the girls’ heads in turn.
“It was really just a gesture of love,” says Joanna, “And even though they’re young and it seems like a big decision for a young kid to make, it was out of love.”
Despite their tender ages, the girls have been very mature about their decision to shave their heads. “The outside doesn’t matter,” says Kayla. “It’s what’s on the inside that counts but you still get judged, so if my mom were to get judged by her being bald I don’t want her to be the only one.”
Joanna believes it was a good choice to allow her girls to shave their heads and thinks it may have helped them process the difficulty of having a mother diagnosed with cancer.
“It’s very difficult to see a loved one go through pain and just a lot of body changes that they can’t control,” says Joanna. “This was one way they could not only share that with me, but maybe manage some of what they were experiencing themselves.”
Check out the video below to learn more about this family’s beautiful story and watch the girls get their heads shaved!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?