12.19.13 After her mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Jeanne M. Francis Dietrich (right) reached out to MOCA, asking if she could share her story with our blog readers. As her mom, Flo, started chemotherapy to fight her Stage 4 cancer, Jeanne wanted to take her support of her mom one step farther – by shaving her own head along with her mother’s. She asked to share her journey with our readers. This is Jeanne’s story.
Sitting on the side of the hospital bed, I was holding my Mom’s hand while staring at the floor. She turned to me and said, “Remember that dress?”. I knew exactly what dress she was talking about. In the wake of my mom’s Stage 4 ovarian cancer diagnosis, she was referring to the time when I was 2-years-old, wearing a little white chiffon dress with a green velvet sash and yellow flowers.
Facing mortality tends to bring out the moments in time that have deep meaning to you on many levels. Stripped away are the conventions of thinking that identify us with our egos. I am no longer the 49-year-old daughter, mother, artist, counselor. I am the innocent child in her Easter dress standing in the springtime sun with curls in her hair. Time has stopped, the family is all together, it is a simple time when love abounds.
As a young woman of little means, my mom sewed her own clothes and did her hair in the style of the movie stars in the kitchen with her sisters. Like a master artist, her expression of beauty has always been through her personal style; from her hair all the way through to her impeccably decorated home. While we were growing up, she clothed all five of us reluctant kids in the current fashion, insisting we dress up for holidays at home, church, and parties.
My mom, Flo, is one of the most beautiful women I know. It’s hard to walk in the shadow of such talent. Together with my charismatic father, Joe, they raised their kids and built a business in the beauty industry. They started with nothing but humble enthusiasm, drive and a dream which over 35 years grew into a recognizable brand with a reputation for innovation in the franchise industry.
Our family has had our fair share of hardship, pain, and loss. We lost our Dad to cancer in 1994 and our oldest sibling, Joey to a car accident in 1997. As a result of facing such challenges, my mom’s beauty has changed from an external focus to an internal one, one that she expresses through giving to others. Retired now, she runs the Joe Francis Hair Care Scholarship Foundation that gives over 25 scholarships a year to people pursuing an education in the hair industry.
The thought of my mom losing her hair is symbolic on so many levels. Her hair has been an expression of her beauty, and other people’s hair the source of abundant success. Her doctor told us by the second chemo treatment my Mom would lose her hair. There were times when I would see strands of hair on the carpet at her house, and one particular day, we noticed her hair brush filled with hair that had been pulled out by gentle brushing. With a sadness to her voice, she told me that it was time to shave her head.
For a woman who gives so much, my sister Barb, and I decided to give her something to help ease her into the new reality of chemo treatment. We decided to shave our heads together. Surrounded by family, through tears and laughter, we did it. It was an epic gesture that was deeply felt by all of us. We wanted to be with her in that exact moment when she had to look at herself for the first time without hair. We went to the mirror together, united we faced the change together. We were there to support her as she faced herself in this new light, without her perfectly coiffed and colored locks, all of us staring back at our fragile mortality.
We are lucky, our family has a spirit of survival, we value perseverance and sense of humor. We recognize that life’s challenges are better met with support from others, that we can’t and shouldn’t face adversity alone. Our hope is that by supporting our mother, we can get the conversation started about being able to recognize the insidious signs of ovarian cancer. We choose to shout out through our bald heads, evoking looks and discussing with others what we have done and why we are doing it with the hope that it may save another beautiful life.