Our oldest boy is named Brigham. He’s a remarkable person, and I’m not just saying that because he keeps his bathroom surprisingly clean, although that’s most of it. This is Brig:
When Brigham was in sixth grade, his hair started falling out. One day, we noticed one of his eyebrows was falling out. Being the totally awesome dad that I am, I told him to stop being a total idiot and rubbing out his eyebrows when he’s itching his eyes. Father of the Year, right here. Then a couple days later, Wendy pulled on his hair and a whole handful came out, and then I realized that maybe perhaps he wasn’t just rubbing his eyebrows until they fell out.
Brig got something called alopecia. It’s a thing where your hair falls out. He fought it for two years. He got steroid shots in his scalp, in the rest of his head, in his freaking eyebrows. Aaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!! Seriously, in his eyebrows. Shots. They worked a little, but his hair was as patchy as Kayla was on Days of Our Lives <rimshot!>.
He tried other stuff. He went to physical therapy. He took some other drugs. He drank his weight in water. He went to some hippie advanced medical clinic where they asked him to hold crystals in his hands for a half hour and we swear we aren’t making this up. Shockingly, that didn’t work either. Nothing did.
Finally, in March 2015, while in the super awesomest year of any American child’s life – 8th grade – Brigham said, in the nicest way possible, piss on it. And he shaved his head and bought some Buddy Holly glasses and gave the proverbial bird to alopecia. Epic day.
His biggest fear, of course, is what the other hormonally-driven apes at his junior high would think and say, but they were pretty great and he finished out the year. Then we moved and he got to go to a new school as a bald freak for ninth grade! And then the next year another new school as he started high school!! So many new people to bore holes in Brigham with their stares and call him Caillou and Charlie Brown. Or maybe that was just his family.
So, super sucky thing. Such a rough go during a funky time of life. And I say this in all sincerity – Brigham absolutely blossomed and is thriving because his hair fell out. He has become so much more. He’s inspired us all.
A couple months ago, he was elected Junior Class President at Viewmont High next year. And even though it’s Viewmont, we are so proud. His campaign slogan was Go Bald or Go Home. Owning it dude. He’s developed a toughness and a tenderness and an authenticity and a style and a sense of humor, even when Wally makes an Easter egg in Brigham’s likeness.
So anyway, I say this because going bald is a huge challenge for so many cancer patients. It’s traumatic and unavoidable and an outward reflection of an inward struggle, and I can’t imagine the emotion of losing hair and changing so much outwardly fighting this stupid disease.
But from the moment he was diagnosed, Payson has seen baldness as a perk. Because of Brigham. Totally unscary, totally unthreatening, totally a method to get more chicks. Because of Brigham.
So, Wendy went and bought him some Buddy Holly glasses with no lenses at the dollar store and Payson started hoping to go bald asap and wearing the glasses in anticipation.
We didn’t expect the hair to start falling out quite so soon, but it did. Because of the puffiness from the steroids and the hair loss and the cravings and the general weakness, in like a week, Payson went from looking like a seven year old underwear model to looking like a sixty year old dude with a bad thyroid and an unhealthy relationship with food.
So, the hair started falling out. More than we thought, but we were still planning on the slow decline into old age. Then, on Friday, Wendy was vacuuming Pace’s head, so I knew things were getting serious.
Then, Friday night, we are hanging out with friends, Payson is chilling on the tramp, minding his own business and also, uh…
This happened about an hour after we found out that his cancer is gone. Even with another bald kid and all the preparation and Pace’s excitement, this was hard to see. Like a Junior High orchestra concert, where you smile and remain attentive and do your best to cover up the agony you are feeling.
When your kid goes bald from chemo, there’s nothing to hide behind. It just is. The bald head is the surest evidence that the only way out is through. We are in chemo, and we will be for awhile, and the hair loss is such a small yet sharp and shocking part of the always uphill journey.
But, perspective is everything. Payson is thrilled. Brigham has a bald buddy. The Good Lord in his knowledge started getting us ready for this when a geeky sixth grader started losing his hair four years ago. Payson’s treatments are so much more manageable than what others are forced to deal with. 60 years ago, Payson probably wouldn’t still be with us. This whole leukemia thing will do for Payson, and for others in our family, what going bald did for Brig. We will be refined, and we will become stronger, and we will find style and groove and passion.
So, here we are. Three bald Inkleys. Weaker but stronger, ready for what’s next. And if the Good Lord is willing and the clippers work, Wally will join our ranks this evening as his most favorite thing, his hair, becomes a pile on the ground in honor of his brother.
Up yours, Leukemia. Let’s kick this pig.