I put shaving cream on my daughter's head.
Yes, I put shaving cream on my daughter's head to shave off the beautiful long locks that chemotherapy had not yet shed. The alternative was to watch as chunks of hair fell across her shoulders and pillow for days on end. Jasmine's transformation was now complete. Instead of being the new kid on the block she was a seasoned patient of the pediatric cancer ward of Hong Kong's Queen Mary Hospital. She wore hospital-provided pajamas, had tubes protruding from her chest, and wore a night cap all day to keep the heat from escaping her now-bald head.
I'm shaving my head in solidarity with all cancer patients in general, and pediatric cancer patients specifically, because the standard treatments are barbaric and have debilitating long-term effects for those who survive:
- Heart and lung problems due to chemotherapy and radiation treatments
- Slowed or delayed growth (in the bones or overall)
- Changes in the ability to have children
- Learning problems
- Increased risk of other cancers later in life
Children don't develop cancer because they smoke cigarettes or receive too much sun exposure. They don't typically get cancer because their parents or grandparents had cancer either. Pediatric cancers occur because children's cells divide frequently, and mistakes in cell division can lead to the creation of a single cancerous cell.
Jasmine was very tall and growing fast -- and that is where the problem began. As the cells in her right fibula divided, a small mistake in replication changed the DNA in a single cell just enough to become cancerous. And instead of dying, that cell continued to divide without bounds. Jasmine had bone cancer (osteosarcoma).
Chemotherapy is designed to kill fast-growing tumor cells. And as a side-effect, it kills other fast-growing cells as well: nails, blood, mucous membranes and -- most visibly -- hair. After a few months of chemotherapy, the valiant doctors at Queen Mary hospital removed her right fibula and all traces of cancer in her left leg. With the chemotherapy behind her, Jasmine's hair grew back curlier than before -- but just as beautiful!
But it was already too late. Although cancer cells could not be detected, they had already escaped, only to reveal themselves 8 months later. The cells originally reappeared in both of her lungs and then surfaced in her right thigh and shoulder, left ring finger as well as deep in her chest.
Jasmine resumed chemotherapy treatment at New York's Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. After the tumors in her lungs, thigh and chest were removed, her right humerus was replaced with a metal replacement and her right ring finger was amputated, we held out hope that she had beaten the 'emperor of all maladies'.
Sadly, it was not to be. Cancer continued to ravage her body. Her right arm had to be amputated after the remaining cancer-weekend bone snapped. Her left knee began to swell and was treated with radiation -- merely to reduce the pain. And finally, her lungs quickly filled with tumors depriving her of oxygen. Jasmine passed away early one morning in her morphine-induced sleep as my wife and I sat beside her -- holding her remaining four-fingered hand.
At her death, my baby girl was missing a fibula, a finger as well as an arm. She had scars across her torso, metal wires holding her rib cage in place and tubes protruding from her chest. And, she had no hair.
I'm shaving to raise money for pediatric cancer research so the children of the future may never have to face devastation like this. Please donate today in honor of the 400,000 children globally who are diagnosed each year with cancer.