Isn’t it Ironic, Don’t You Think?
I went bald to help kids with cancer and then I got cancer myself.
A personal account written by 17-year-old Sam Macarah.
An Eye-Opening Experience
It was 2018 and I was in the Civil Air Patrol. The group participated in a head-shaving event each year for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation to help raise money for childhood cancer research. That year, I decided to shave myself because my grandmother had recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and I wanted to show my love and support for her, as well as for all kids suffering from cancer.
The experience was eye-opening. I was among the bravest of them all — local police officers and firemen — to show solidarity with kids who lose their hair during cancer treatment. As I sat in the chair, I could hear the buzzing of the clippers, people cheering, and could see smiles in the crowd. It was my dad who was standing right behind me, taking the first swipe of my hair. As each piece of hair fell to the floor, I started to understand how even this supposedly minor detail of cancer treatment was a big deal, especially for kids and teens who might be especially self-conscious.
That year I raised close to $5,000 for kids with cancer. The next time I shaved would be the last time before becoming one of those kids I was trying to help.
The Stuff of Nightmares
I found out I was diagnosed with cancer on Jan 23, 2021. I had gone for a workout two days prior.
I was feeling sore in my glute/hip flexor area and thought I may have pulled a muscle. The next day it was worse and when I got a fever and threw up, I finally went to my mom. She thought I might have COVID or an infection, so she took me to the hospital to get checked out.
When my test results came back the doctor and a social worker asked to speak to my mom privately.
That’s when I got really scared. They were gone for what seemed like an eternity but was probably only 10 minutes. When my mom came back in, she had tears in her eyes.
She took my hands and told me I had leukemia. She told me that we were going to be admitted to the hospital that day and that we were going to start treatment right away. She also told me that everything was going to be ok.
I was shocked and scared. My grandmother had died of cancer less than three years earlier and I had seen how awful it had been for her. Cancer was one of my worst fears. I couldn’t believe this thing that was the stuff of nightmares, like the monster in the closet, was coming true.
A Turn for the Worse
After confirming my cancer was acute promyelocytic leukemia, I underwent a rigorous treatment protocol that included chemotherapy drugs and multiple transfusions each day. It was supposed to be straightforward, but things took a turn for the worse when I suffered a bleed in my back resulting in a hematoma that pressed on my spinal cord, causing paralysis.
When they figured out what had happened, I was too sick to be operated on because my platelets and clotting ability were nearly nonexistent. After a night in the ICU being pumped full of blood products, Idarubicin, fluid and antibiotics my platelet count was 90,000 and they decided to operate. It was an all-day operation and after, I stayed in the hospital for 3 months. Faced with the fact that I may not be able to walk, I pushed hard through rehab and I’m proud to say that I’m walking again today.
The Shave After
Shaving my head this year was different. In a way, it meant I was through my own cancer and could move on to helping others — like all the babies, toddlers, and young kids I saw on the pediatric cancer floor.
The day was hard. I was meeting up again with my fellow Civil Air Patrol Cadets for the first time since I had been diagnosed. I was weak, I was in a wheelchair, and I still had my PICC line. My hair had already grown back somewhat, but it was weird and patchy.
As I watched that weird and patchy hair hit the floor, I thought about all I’d been through since my first shave. I thought about how I was alive today because so many before me sat in chairs like this and were willing to lose their hair to fund lifesaving research — the same research that allowed me to receive frontline treatment and be here today.