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Shaving for solidarity

School staff used their razors to show support for a colleague undergoing chemo

Posted: Tuesday, May 01, 2001

Bryn Nelson couldn't stop laughing when three co-workers from Auke Bay Elementary School showed up at a downtown restaurant with shaved heads.

Especially considering that two were women, and that Nelson has lost her own hair from chemotherapy treatments for cancer.

"It was just exactly what I needed," Nelson said. "Because I haven't laughed for a while, and I really needed it."

"She has the best snort in the world," Tracey Martin, a teacher and counselor, said fondly.

Martin, Principal Dave Newton and instructional assistant Melissa Morgan-Fisher shaved their heads about three weeks ago in support of Nelson, who has taught at Auke Bay since 1985 and has been on a leave of absence since spring break.

The trio see their shaved heads as a symbol of all the support for Nelson from the school and the district. School district employees have donated a year and a half worth of paid leave since Nelson's cancer was discovered in 1999.

"It's not about the hair," Morgan-Fisher said, giving the trio's motto. "It's about showing support for a dear friend."

"It kind of shows that we're all in this together," Nelson said. "We're all part of that circle. And we depend on each other a lot. It's very touching that they did it."

Still, people with shaved heads have some explaining to do when they work with little children. One girl wanted to know if Newton had head lice. A boy asked Martin if she was still a girl.

In shaving their heads, the trio also, in a small way, put themselves in the position of an ill person. Some children thought Martin also had cancer.

Just think what the act tells children about friendship, love and affection, a friend told Nelson.

Part of our social identity stems from how we look, and hair is a big part of people's appearance.

"I was so mad because it was so difficult to do," Martin said.

Newton said he checked with the school nurse to be sure his hair would grow back.

Nelson is in her second period of chemotherapy treatments. The first time, she didn't think her hair would grow back and that was frightening, she said.

Three weeks into chemotherapy and her sink would be full of hair after she combed it.

"It's like part of you is gone," she said. "I know it will come back. But it's awful. If you have hair, nobody knows you're sick. But if you don't have hair, everybody knows you're sick."

Now, in her second period of hairlessness, Nelson said she doesn't think about it.

"This time it's no big deal. ... Maybe I'm finally getting some realization it doesn't matter anymore."

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.



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