If you’re dealing with cancer and hair loss and have children, you owe it to yourself to check out Sue Glader’s new book, Nowhere Hair. Created out of the author’s own experience with breast cancer, it encourages moms and kids to talk about the illness and its visible effects on the body.
“When I went through breast cancer and lost my hair,” Sue says, “I noticed a lot of kids would look at me funny. But then, you don’t see a lot of bald women out and about.” The mother of a young son, Sue realized how strange and potentially frightening it must be for children to see cancer’s physical changes show up on their mom’s bodies.
“I had one niece who came to visit me,” she says, “and when I opened the door bald as the day I was born, she had this look on her face like, ‘Holy moly, what happened to you?’ But it took her a long time to ask me about it.” Sue also realized that, much as children could be frightened by cancer’s changes, moms could be just as anxious about how to talk about it. “It’s not like you get an instruction book about these things. You’re dealing with all these emotions yourself, but you don’t want to scare your child, so what do you say? How do you begin?”
Sue hopes her new book will help parents open the conversation, and present the challenge as one that doesn’t have to be overly frightening or sad. “I’m a writer by trade,” Sue says, “so when I’m faced with something difficult, I turn to books. When I was going through cancer, I did that. Even though my son was very young, I wanted to see what was out there. And honestly, I was disappointed. Most of the books depicted the mother in raw, unflattering ways, and were overly focused on letting the children know it was okay to feel sad. I mean, they would have page after page of the child crying or the mother crying or the mother and child together crying, and that wasn’t my experience. Oh I cried, but I did it after my son was asleep. My perspective is when you’ve got young children in your life, your job is to help minimize their suffering. Taking a swan dive into melancholy with them doesn’t help.”
Instead, Sue’s mother character in the book is elegant, hip, and most of the time, happy. “Not like I think having breast cancer is a ‘tra-la-la’ kind of experience,” she says, “but I wanted this book to have an upbeat feeling about it. However, it has parts where Mom is cranky or she’s tired and is on the couch. It’s honest. ”
Already Sue is getting feedback on the book. Survivors who have picked it up at area cancer centers have told her how it helped them talk with their children. “This one woman told me that she especially liked having it before her hair fell out, as she felt it helped prepare the children.” Sue feels that writing and putting the book together with her illustrator has been healing for her as well. “I wanted to do something more with this experience than just have it. This book has given meaning to what I went through.”
Sue’s been cancer free for 10 years now, and says if she were to give advice to other fighters, it would be to “stay in the moment” and “be kind to yourself.”
“It’s very easy to let your mind run away with itself,” she says. “You think the worst. It’s like, ‘I’m getting chemotherapy. I’ve seen the movies – and I’m going to feel terrible.’ But that may not be your experience. Try to stay in the moment, and give yourself some slack. We moms try to be super women, but there will be moments when you’ll feel like, ‘Oh my lord, I can’t do this.’ It’s at those times you need to be easier on yourself, and realize that this too, shall pass.”
The book’s overarching message to children is also to be kind, even to people who may look a little different. As the book’s narrator says at the end:
So if you see her, please be kind.
Don’t snicker and don’t stare.
I’m thinking that’s what you’d prefer
if your own head was bare.
It’s hard to see her without hair.
I miss her curls that bounce.
And though I know her hair will grow,
it’s what’s inside that counts.