Bold, Bald, and Beautiful: Part One

inked by Julia

A wise night nurse once said to me, “It is OK to mourn the loss of your hair; it’s not vanity. It is a very difficult trial for a woman.”

My name is Julia Gardner. I’m a 21 year-old Christ-follower who married the man of my dreams on June 28, 2015, and was diagnosed with Pre-B Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia on August 15, 2015. If you do the math, we were just a day short of being seven weeks into marriage.1 Photo credit: Braun Photography

We had a beautiful wedding day in Cincinnati, and everything went exactly as planned. We then spent a week in amazing Venice, Italy, where we road gondolas, ate pasta, and lived the Venetian way. Michael and I arrived home, started nesting, and made our little rental house our home. I may have had an ER run for glass in my foot our third week of marriage, and at this point our insurance probably thinks Michael’s crazy for marrying me.

For our first month anniversary, we ate a piece of our leftover wedding cake together in our adorable kitchen. On our second month anniversary, we ate a replica version of our cake (thanks to Cake Diva in Waynesville) in the comfort of a hospital room. I have high hopes for our third month anniversary: eating dinner at 3:30 at my favorite restaurant in order to avoid crowds of people and protect my immune system.2 3

Everyone finds out they have cancer in a different way, and all those non-cancerous lucky’s out there want to know exactly how you found out.  For me, it all came on fairly quickly. My lymph nodes in my neck seemed a little strange to me one Friday; they weren’t swollen, just different. I noticed them on a drive to my house where I was meeting a group of family friends, one of which being a doctor. He felt them, noted they were a bit odd, and that we should just watch them for a bit. I agreed with that.

That same weekend, my mom and three sisters all told me at separate times how pale I looked. By Sunday, I needed two naps and was very lightheaded. To me, all these signs pointed to anemia. I made an appointment with my doctor that Tuesday to get some blood work and answers. I spent the next four days feeling my pulse over 120 after lying on the couch for hours. I couldn’t focus in my three-day pharmacy school orientation, and I finally called my doctor back for results on Thursday.  The nurse returned my call and informed me I was anemic and to continue the iron supplement they gave me.

I wan’t quite satisfied with that answer, so I requested for my results to be sent to me. When I received the results around 12pm on Friday, August 14th, I sent them to my parents, who then sent the results to a few of our doctor friends. Apparently, everyone who saw the blood test results came to the same conclusion, but no one informed me of the potential bad news. What the nurse failed to tell me was how elevated my white blood cell count was, and that my white blood cells appeared “atypical and immature,” something I knew couldn’t be good.

My family friend and primary care physician then pushed me to head to the emergency room, somewhere my husband and I knew would take hours and dreaded going. We just had dinner with my out-of-town in-laws who were staying with us that weekend while they moved my brother-in-law into college. We sent them a text that we were headed to the ER and left for a local hospital.

We spent about two hours getting fluids and blood work at this hospital before they spilled the dreaded beans. They were worried it was lymphoma or leukemia and needed to transfer me to their main hospital in downtown Dayton. We, of course, lost it. I was remembered saying, “Leukemia we can handle… that’s an easy one”. So I was optimistic from the start (I think).

I was poked and prodded constantly for 24 hours and I was told it was nothing, it was something, it was nothing, and finally it was definitively leukemia. Immediately after handing out the diagnosis, the doctor asked where I wanted to be treated. Everything was moving so quickly. I was desperate for a minute to process before making a decision. “Oh, hold on,” I thought. “Let me sob on my cute new husband’s shoulder for a minute before I make any decisions, please.”

We ended up choosing Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, the number two pediatric oncology center in the nation. I was transferred Sunday, and my treatment Day 1 began the following Wednesday. It’s been a wild ride, but honestly, I’m doing really well overall. I think I can admit to myself and all of you, that so far the hardest part is losing my hair.

I came into this mess with a head of long, curly, thick hair. And I was very determined to keep it as long as humanly possible. I asked every nurse and doctor and social worker when I should expect my hair to fall out, but they could only tell me this: “Oh, honey, everyone is different.” That was so not good enough for me. I needed to know the exact date I would need to shave my head.

4This is a picture of my adorable niece, and my long locks. 

I receive a chemo drug called Vincristine (it’s a nasty sucker) that causes my first bought of hair loss. I got my first dose on Day 1 of my treatment. If my memory serves me well, I started noticing my hair coming out easier about three days later. I, of course, thought it was a massive amount of hair loss, but I didn’t know what was coming!

My second week of chemo, I started losing hair in chunks. Everyone told me a fresh cut was a great idea, but I still wasn’t convinced. I let myself run my fingers through my hair, and watched handfuls come out. I thought I’d be bald in the next days. But alas, some of my hair held on.

The third week was miserable in every way. I was having tons of side effects from chemo, including a spinal fluid leak that left me bedridden for a week. In addition to all the bodily discomfort, my hair was a mess! It matted up, clumped out, and was impossible to brush. We called a family friend in and had her chop off my locks.

5This is the shortest my hair’s been since 1st grade, but I felt like a new woman!

Sadly, this cut could only last me a few days. By my fourth round of Vincristine, the hair was coming out faster and faster. Laying in bed all day caused severe bed head. I had one huge mat of hair that had fallen out but was stuck on my head. I woke up four days after my fresh cut, told my mom I need this hair off now, and she scheduled an impromptu haircut with my Aunt Polly.

My ANC levels were good, so I was able to leave the hospital on pass and meet her at her hair salon. Her shop had a private room just for this sort of thing, and it made it more intimate and emotional. I still had a lot of hair somehow, so I went for the pixie cut. This has made all the difference!

6

I’ve had my ups and downs with hair loss during the last four weeks. Sobbing in the shower or just laughing through the pain seems to be my normal responses. As of today, I feel ready to let go of the last bits of hair.  I cannot predict my emotions as I take clippers to my head for the very first time, but I know everything will be ok, and I will accept my new look as normal. I dread the stares that I have admittedly given to others, but I’m still me, not matter what I look like! So let’s do this cancer thing.

34 thoughts on “Bold, Bald, and Beautiful: Part One

    • Julia….I don’t think I’ve ever read anything so inspirational….You have such strength…Please know that I am praying for you…We know who the “Great Physician” is & HE IS ABLE!!!

  1. Julia, I’m so touched by your blog post. You are such an amazing young woman. Not just because you’re kicking cancer’s butt but also because of your spirit and attitude towards life in general. I’ll never forget you reaching out to Katie when she was going thru her difficult times and how much that meant to her to feel accepted and not like a failure. I’d be willing to bet I’m not the only one with a story like that about how you’ve touched their lives. We are praying for you daily.

  2. Julia, you are an amazing woman, I am so happy to be related to you by marriage, and someday will get to meet you. ;)
    Your pixie is adorable, and with your eyes and smile and spirit, I am sure even a shiny head will be a great look for you. :) Thank you for sharing your journey.

  3. Julia you are such an inspiration. In every picture and every post anyone has posted about you and your journey I have seen and felt your beautiful smile, strong will and most of all your faith in our Lord. I pray I can face obstacles in my life big or small with the grace you have shown. I’m praying for you and your family. God bless you.

  4. strategically praying for Gods love being appearent to you during this trial, praying for you, thank you for your candid honesty that allows us to pray for your specific needs and thank you for encouraging us even in your hurting moments.

  5. Long locks, short hair , no hair… you are so beautiful. Wow… Thank you for sharing your feelings, thoughts and courage through this.. We pray for you, your husband, your family, your physicians daily.

  6. You are absolutely beautiful sweetheart and it will come back! You have been so brave and taken this head on. Your God’s Grace is sufficient and you have one of the most wonderful and lovingly supportive families I’ve ever known and evidently a husband that is amazing according to everyone’s standards. You can rest in the assurance that everything is going according to God’s plan. You are His child and He loves you. My Daddy always told me that God makes no mistakes and I learned to believe that. It was hard at times to see but I learned. We will continue to pray and look forward to hearing your updates of progress. We love you darling girl. Jim and Patti Broughton

  7. I do not know you personally. But I have been thinking and praying for you. You are beautiful! I know Amy Tolson from church and will continue to think of you. You are very brave. -Hannah

  8. Dearest Julia,

    You would not remember us, you were a toddler when we went to the same church. But we remember you and we ARE praying for your body to heal and return to perfect health!

    In Jesus,

    The Arend Family (Brian, Peggy, Alexandra and Sydney)

  9. You are awesome, Julia! I know my family and I are praying for you during this hard time. Keep the faith!

    Gwendolyn and the Hill family

  10. I haven’t lost all my hair with my crohns but I’ve lost enough, society tells a woman needs hair to be beautiful, then takes that chance away through my Medication. I will never have long luxuous hair. Any hair I have I’ve fought for because I care. Despite my chemo drugs I want to say I’ve fought for my body today and in the future and you are beautiful just the way God designed you

  11. Julie,
    Your post moved me to tears … not with sadness for your struggle, though there is that, but with gladness to see you writing!

    My blog turned to transplant when I was first diagnosed. I felt like the Lord wanted me to write honestly. I had no idea why.

    Well, now I know.

    1) To help me process and get things out.
    2) To encourage others going through similar battles to know they were not alone or weird in feeling what they felt.
    3) To give me a history of his miraculous hand on my life after my recovery.

    My little blog grew to a few thousand subscribers and I often had opportunity to correspond with people. That helped me find purpose.

    I hope you keep writing. For you. For us. For others. Write honestly even when things suck. It’s okay. Write when you question, when you feel tired, when you feel disappointed and not just happy posts. It helps so much.

    Keep it up!

    We love you!
    Scott

  12. Thank you for sharing your journey, I have not had the pleasure of meeting you in person, but can feel how very strong you are. Keep up the positive attitude……….

  13. Dear Julia,
    We have not met but I have known the Gardner family forever. I read your story and admire your great attitude and your sense of humor on the face of (to say the least) uncomfortable and unpleasant circumstances. In this situation, attitude is everything! You and Michael are and have been, daily in my prayers.
    Now, about the hair loss….a great hat and your big smile is all you need! Your beauty shines from within.
    Blessings and love from Maine, Dale Prue

  14. Julia, you have amazed me as I have followed you on this journey! Your strength, high spirit and Faith in God is such an example! Our family is praying for you daily!!
    ~Jill

  15. A precious account of this journey that you have been taking. We are praying for you and your sweet husband during these difficult days. It has to be difficult to go through this process but Your beauty is not defined by the curly locks. You have such a sweet spirit and such a strong family support system. We will continue to lift you up in prayer. God Bless

  16. Julia you are an inspiration to everyone who meets you. Cancer and hair loss cannot take your beauty away. Your beauty comes from within as does your strength. Find comfort in God and those around you. Know you are thought of daily and prayers reach farther than ever thought possible. Kick it girl!

  17. Hello Julia, You have a beautiful testimony. Romans 8:28 ” And we know that all things work together for good for those that love God and to them that are called according to his purpose.”
    Gods grace is sufficient to get us through these difficult times regardless of how difficult we think we think they are. I am a cancer survivor and I thank God everyday for my trials and tribulations.
    Go to You tube and search for “Roger Coffman’s Testimony” God bless you and yours, Praying for you daily, Roger and Marcella

  18. Thank you for sharing this with us, Julia. We have never met face to face so I very briefly will tell you who I am. We, you and I, are second cousins twice removed. Your grandmother and great aunt and I are second cousins. I am not nearly as old as they are although Diane will say she is six years older than I and Kay will say she is two (or forty) years younger than I am. :-) The three of us grew up together… especially Kay and I. I’ve known your daddy since he was born and have seen him grow up into a fine man and marry a wonderful woman, your mother. I am not at all surprised they produced such a beautiful, talented and wise daughter such as you. I am proud to know you and happy I am a part of your family.

    You will come through this and regain your good health. I am sure of that. You have everything and everyone you need to do that plus your own inner strength and your spiritual strength. One of these days we will meet and there will be lots of hugs and laughs shared. Much love to you, Cousin Beth

  19. Dear ms julia. ….a dear family member shared your story site on facebook…while reading tears if sadness fell…but also tears and praising for the strenghtn you are given to share your precious journey…keeping you and everyone involved in your journey in prayers. ..

  20. My sister and I were talking yesterday about Holly and her girls. She said, well any of Holly’s girls could pull off the no hair look. No doubt about it, Julia, you will take it to the next level. Cute and classy! I can’t wait to see the next picture of your beautiful eyes and that great smile. Always praying for you and the family.

  21. Julia,
    I have not had the pleasure of meeting you personally but I know your husband’s grandparent (Jimmy and Ellie) very well. Thank you for your honesty. I hope you keep writing because as some have said already it helps you and it helps us. Praying for you and your doctors and families daily.

  22. We are praying for you dear sweet Julia. I admire your strength and trust in the Lord and I’m so proud of your courage. I know it has to be so difficult to be positive all the time and no one expects you to but your joy of the Lord is so evident! Thanks for sharing your life with us all. Your testimony is shining through your pain and I’m sure your experiences are being used to reach and touch many people all around the world. You are a wonderful example for us to follow and I know the Lord is going to greatly use you through this time of your life.

  23. I’m praying for you dear Julia. You blog is a wonderful testimony of faith and a great encouragement to others. Thank you for sharing. God is good all the time, and He will never leave you nor forsake you.

  24. My goodness, you are so awesome, Julia. Your strength is absolutely remarkable. Prayers for peace, comfort, and HEALING are flooding heaven, girl!

    Love,
    The Hamre’s

    Ps..bald women are BEAUTIFUL!!

  25. Dear Julia – lots of people from Cleveland are praying for you! I attended Parkside church from 1992-2006 and helped with club jv for 10 of those years along with Beth and matt Mcalvey, Kathy house Myles and the Komar family. They all requested that I send you a bag from our nonprofit Pursue hope, which I am so excited to do. This is completely free to you and just to encourage you!!! My story is similar but not – but the loss of hair is so powerful (I went thru breast cancer and lost my hair as well). Please know that I am praying for you as well as these ladies!!! God bless you and please email or text me anytime!!! Much love, sue Patterson swiger

  26. Sending lots of prayers, You look cute as can be with your pixie cut and even if you “go bald” you can pull it off. Think of all the time you’ll save when you don’t have to shampoo and blow dry. And who will notice when they see your beautiful smile.

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