A Cancer Survivor's Perspective on No-Shave November


No-Shave November offers an opportunity for cancer awareness and fundraising. Contemplating whether to join in or not can bring back memories of when there was no choice but to go bald instead of letting our hair go wild.

Each November, I watch TV personalities and miscellaneous men grow beards for No-Shave November. This year, curious, I researched this phenomenon, which is related to cancer awareness. Participants quit shaving and donate what they would spend on grooming, or more, to a good cause. Not only men participate. Women are also encouraged to join in, although I have yet to see a celebrity embrace her mustache or chin hairs on air.

The website for No-Shave November says, "The goal of No-Shave November is to grow awareness by embracing our hair, which many cancer patients lose, and letting it grow wild and free." Although the no-shave tradition had been around, a family that lost a father to colon cancer adapted it more formally in 2009. Thanks to the efforts of the Hill family, the foundation raises funds for the Prevent Cancer Foundation, Fight Colorectal Cancer and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

The concept of letting hair go wild is interesting. While many shave heads out of solidarity for people with cancer, growing hair is also good any time of year. I know people who have cultivated long hair with the goal of donating it to an organization such as Locks of Love. It is lovely when a gift to others is a side effect of grooming (or not grooming, as the case may be). A week before I began chemo, I got my long hair bobbed at a salon. It was my first fashionable haircut, as I have always liked long hair. Now, with a side effect of chemo, I have shorter hair. At 54, I had little gray in my thick hair. With hair to spare, my ponytail went to Locks of Love.

Of course, the remaining locks began to fall out soon thereafter. Losing hair hurt, and not because I was going bald as clumps fell onto my computer keyboard or onto the floor of my classroom. Dying follicles emitting burning pain do not go gently. Off the remaining wisps of hair went as I shaved my head during No-Shave November 2010.

I embraced baldness after this loss of hair, foreshadowed by a fashionable haircut and hairy legs. In fact, I had quit shaving my legs as soon as I knew I would be undergoing chemo. I wanted them fuzzy again, the way they were in college when my boyfriend came back from California and said that the women in California did not shave their legs.

I had very hairy legs then. When I decided to blend in a bit after college, I started shaving my legs again. Now, late in my career, I could do what I want. College teachers have more freedom to look exactly like themselves than TV personalities or many professionals do. Nevertheless, I like to blend into the woodwork, especially at the pool, so I shave my legs now and then.

Not all that enamored of shaving, though, I decided to give No-Shave November a try. Of course, there was a catch. In any given month, I spend less than a dollar on shaving expenses. That would mean pennies to donate, if I based donations on how much I would save by not shaving. Of course, for those donating what they save to a No-Shave November charity, pennies add up. Charities appreciate all donations, small or large.

There are, fortunately, other ways to have more money to donate. Making your own coffee, for example, is one. Eating out less often is another. Running a 5K is always invigorating. A few friends of mine have raised money for cancer awareness by participating in walks and runs. The students where I work do a wonderful fundraising event with Relay for Life. This is to say that there are all kinds of ways to help, if not shaving for a month is not your thing. Turns out, it was not mine.

I lasted 12 days without shaving any body hair (although I did pull my whiskers) and do not feel too bad for failing. Having hair on my legs to shave, and under one arm (as the removal of lymph nodes pretty much exfoliated my right armpit), reminds me that I survived cancer treatment. Thank goodness that there are plenty of others who do not mind enjoying a month unshackled to the habit of removing hair. I commend them for their good spirits and hope a lot of money is raised by people with beards and hairy legs. Learn more:

No-Shave November

Locks of Love

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