A mother fighting cancer shows her daughter and others affected by the disease that God is in charge
Belle, my nine-year-old daughter, snuggled against me in my bed, where I lay exhausted from chemotherapy. Her eyes skipped up to my bald head.
“I miss brushing your hair, Mommy,” she said.
“It will grow back,” I said, my voice barely above a whisper. “I’m still your mommy. That hasn’t changed. I still love you, hair or no hair.”
“Can you play with me?” she said.
“Honey, I’m just too tired. You need to let Mommy rest.” She nodded and slipped out of the room.
I’d always been proud of my long hair, and so had Belle. It broke both our hearts when it started to come out. But it wasn’t really about the hair. It was her fear of losing me. How could I make her understand that, no matter what, God would care for her? Lord, help her understand, I’d begged these last six months.
When I was first diagnosed, five years earlier, my husband and I had told our three older boys about my non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but Belle was too young. I’d tried immunotherapy, which has fewer side effects than chemo. It hadn’t worked. Now there was no avoiding the fact that I was sick. I’d had to quit working as a portrait photographer. I couldn’t go with Belle on school trips. It was all I could do to walk her to the bus in the mornings.
I thought back to that day in June, waking up to find huge clumps of hair on my pillow. I’d started to cry and couldn’t stop. We would have to tell Belle now. I called my sister-in-law. “It’s happening,” I said. “Can you shave my head?”
My sons Christopher, 18, and Seth, 16, and Belle gathered later in the kitchen, Belle biting her lip bravely. I felt the electric razor’s tingle on my scalp, my hair falling to the floor.
Christopher and Seth had their hair cut into Mohawks. “Mohawks for Mom,” Seth said. We took pictures of the three of us. Belle watched it all, pensively. The next day at breakfast she stared at me. “I wish you still had your hair.”
Now, here in my bed, I heard Belle playing with her Barbie’s. “Let’s go shopping,” one said. “Then later, we’ll go to lunch!” I couldn’t help but smile.
I opened my laptop and signed on to Facebook. I’d started a support group for women with cancer. Amazingly, one of them had just sent me a link to a news article. Mattel had made a one-of-a-kind bald Barbie for a girl going through chemo.
That’d be perfect for Belle, I thought. It would make it all seem less frightening. What if they made a special Barbie and sold it in stores? I went to the Barbie website, found the link to customer service and sent off my idea.
I posted what I’d done on my Facebook wall. “You should make a bald Barbie Facebook page,” someone suggested. I figured, it couldn’t hurt. Beckie, a friend in California, whose daughter had cancer, helped me launch the page. “Beautiful and Bald Barbie- Let’s See If We Can Get It Made,” we called it.
The next day there were 100 “likes”…in a week, 2,000, from all around the world. People posted stories and photos. “My daughter lost her hair after chemo,” a mother wrote, “and I don’t know how to comfort her.”
Belle and I read the postings together. The idea of a bald Barbie seemed to take on a life of its own. “I never knew there were so many girls without hair,” Belle said one evening. “I wish there was something we could do for them.”
“Me too,” I said, hugging her. So many people, not just with cancer, but thousands of others dealing with hair loss, all of them looking for comfort; including my Belle. Help her understand, Lord, I prayed again.
By early January of this year, the page had mushroomed to 30,000 fans! Then one day I got an e-mail from Mattel: “Thank you for your interest in Barbie. Unfortunately we don’t accept design ideas from the public.”
I stared in disbelief. I’d let myself get caught up in all the excitement. I felt angry and hurt. And yet I couldn’t help but feel somehow responsible, as if I’d let everyone down. Soon others began posting that they had received the form letter too. The tone of the page quickly turned sour.
“Should I take down the page?” I asked Belle.
Her eyes were glued to the face of a bald girl on the computer screen. “No, Mommy,” she said. “You can’t give up. It won’t happen if you quit.”
She wasn’t just talking about my fight against cancer. She was talking about all the other girls like herself. I could barely hold back my tears; I was bursting with love and pride.
Days later the Facebook page was buzzing with talk that MGA Entertainment, the maker of Bratz and Moxie Girlz dolls, might be coming out with bald dolls, both boy and girl models. Soon after, my phone rang. “Hello, Mrs. Binger,” the voice on the other end said. “This is the general manager for the Barbie product line.”
I was still pinching myself as I took my seat inside a huge conference room at Mattel headquarters in California. It was early February and at Mattel’s invitation I’d flown out so that Beckie and I could meet with the GM and the director of philanthropy. They got right to the point.
“I’m afraid we’re still not ready to make a bald Barbie,” the GM said. “We think it might be too disturbing to our consumers, and that would defeat the purpose.”
My mind raced. “What about a friend for Barbie?” I asked.
The GM glanced at her colleague. “We could do that,” she said.
I left with a promise that Mattel would make 10,000 bald friends for Barbie and give them to children with cancer in hospitals throughout the United States and Canada. They would not be sold in stores.
Not yet, at least. With the Lord, anything is possible.
That afternoon I sat in the airport, thinking, about losing my hair, the boys and their Mohawks, the many women and children I’d connected with. I’d prayed for my little girl to understand that God was in charge, not the cancer. I’d asked him to show her she was not alone.
He had answered my prayer—thousands of times over.
And then guess what? Remember MGA Entertainment? This past summer MGA introduced its line of bald dolls—six all together, sold in stores nationwide. It even sent me 100 dolls to give to some of the families whose stories have touched me most. The dolls are called True Hope. I could not have put it better!
Jane Binger, is a single mother,and cancer survivor- made entrepreneur. This article was first published in Guide Posts. Inspired was granted permission to re-publish.