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Allan Johnson: Why I'm giving up my hair


By Allan Johnson

Most of us are pretty attached to our hair, and for some the thought of shaving one's head would instill feelings of fear, panic and God knows what else.

But for some, that hair loss isn't optional. Instead, it's just one of the many nasty side effects associated with being diagnosed with cancer and undergoing chemotherapy treatment.

On March 10, I am going to be participating in Young Adult Cancer Canada's Shave for the Brave at the Avalon Mall in St. John's.

Yes, I'm shaving my head. Yes, it's going to be cold. But it's only hair, it will grow back, and I am losing it by choice.

In June 2011, one of my closest friends, Steven Corbett, told me he had been diagnosed with testicular cancer.

My first response was that of disbelief and shock. Nothing really prepares you for that kind of news or the wave of emotion that ensues from hearing those words.

Amongst those emotions, there was also a strong desire to be supportive, to immediately offer whatever assistance possible, to help him beat this disease. I know full well he would do the same if the situation were reversed.

How did he react? From day one, he carried on with his everyday life as if nothing had happened. He accepted the fact that he had cancer, but he also accepted that there was no reason for that to stop him from living.

In hindsight, I should have expected no less from him; he's just that type of guy.

The next few months were clouded with uncertainty, and countless appointments to determine the approach that best suited his diagnosis. Finally it was determined that he would start chemotherapy in November.

In preparation for his treatment, he was forced to take a medical leave of absence from work and put his entire life on hold. Despite three rounds of chemotherapy and their side effects, he still kept his spirits up and maintained his positive outlook on life and his focus on the road to recovery.

This is not to say that any of the above was a walk in the park, but he was determined to not let his cancer diagnosis control his life.

From the time of his diagnosis to the time he finished his treatment in early January, I had continued to search for ways to show my support, to lend a hand in any way possible. My wife and I would visit him at the hospital or send him an email or text message on days when we couldn't make it to the hospital, but it never felt like we were doing enough.

Through doing research to learn more about testicular cancer, the side effects of chemotherapy, and ways to support friends battling this disease I came across Young Adult Cancer Canada.

The St. John's-based not-for-profit organization operates around the principle that cancer is different when you're a young adult. The first stage of adult life is usually filled with university, starting a career, buying a house, getting married, starting a family, and celebrating your independence with your peers.

If you have cancer, issues like fertility, friends and finances take on a whole new meaning.

Intrigued, I did more digging and learned that the founder, Geoff Eaton, was also a cancer survivor. Geoff recognized that there was no organization that focused on the specific problems and concerns of young adults battling cancer, and he took it upon himself to create one.

Now in its 12th year, Young Adult Cancer Canada has grown into a national organization and strives to empower young adults who have been diagnosed with cancer by offering support, information, skills and opportunity.

It was through discovering Young Adult Cancer Canada that I determined how I could both support my friend, and help ensure that he and other young adults diagnosed with cancer had a resource that they could turn to for support after receiving their diagnosis, while undergoing treatment, or even taking their first steps towards recovery.

Each year, Young Adult Cancer Canada hosts Shave for the Brave, a series of fundraising events in which participants volunteer to shave their heads in an effort to raise money. The money raised at these events is used to provide information and support to the almost 7,000 young adults who are diagnosed with cancer every year in Canada.

This was not the first time I had heard about this event. I've had other friends participate in the past, but it's the first time I put any consideration into participating.

Having seen first-hand how cancer can affect someone at this stage in life, I wanted to use this opportunity to support Steve, and to do my little part in easing the road for other young adults fighting this disease.

So I consulted with my wife, shared the news with a few close friends, and signed up as a participant.

To date, I've raised over $2,200 and I'd like to thank everyone who has donated on my behalf thus far. If you'd like to join me in supporting my friend and all the other young adults across Canada who have been diagnosed with cancer... visit this link and make a donation to this excellent cause.

A reminder that all donations, big and small, help Young Adult Cancer Canada provide programs free of charge to help this "forgotten generation."

Not able to make a donation? Then please spread the word far and wide, or head on down to the Avalon Mall on March 10 and show your support.

If you're brave enough, you too can sign up as a participant!

If you would like more information on Young Adult Cancer Canada or the Shave for the Brave, check out their websites.