Township Teen Shaves Head To Support Her Sister’s Battle With Cancer
There are few things that are more important to a teenage girl than her hair.
Unless that teenager is 13-year-old Jenna Danielsen.
Danielsen, a Franklin Middle School student, recently took one of the most extreme actions she probably could to show support for her big sister, Ava, who is recovering from six rounds of chemotherapy and has lost all of her hair.
She saved her own head.
Jenna said the idea came to her a few weeks ago, when the family was on a vacation at Rocking Horse Ranch in Highland, N.Y.
“It occurred to me on a horseback ride trail,” she said. “I was pretty much alone with my thoughts in the woods on the trail, and I just realized that hair doesn’t mean that much until you’ve lost it.”
Ava Danielsen was diagnosed in August with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of cancer that attacks the body’s immune system, after seeing a doctor for what was originally thought to be pneumonia.
She was prescribed six rounds of chemotherapy, which ended on Dec. 1. But it was one day during the start of the treatment that the 16-year-old suddenly noticed that her hair was falling out.
She was preparing for class photos at Franklin High School, where she is a junior, she said, and trying to arrange her hair.
“It just started coming out,” Ava said. “I started crying, I told my mom I didn’t want to do this, and my sister was helping me with my makeup and it was running, and it was just terrible.”
But the pictures “came out amazingly,” she said.
And so did her hair.
“Once it started coming out, it didn’t stop,” she said. “I lasted about two or three days with it falling out and I couldn’t take it anymore, so I just shaved it off.”
A move that inspired her younger sister.
“I realized I could do just what she did, shave it all off and it would be OK,” Jenna said. “If she could do it, I could do it.”
Jenna made her move several days after the family returned from their vacation, when she was home alone.
“I didn’t tell them I was going to do it,” she said.
Ava said she was the first one to come home that evening, and found her sister lying on the couch wearing her wig.
Jenna told Ava that the wig was stuck on her head, and she needed help removing it.
“So I helped her take the wig off, and as I got a little bit into it, I saw part of her head and I saw there was no hair there,” Ava said. “I was freaking out, ‘you don’t have any hair there!'”
“Then I realized that she shaved her head,” Ava said. “I was like, Jenna! I was a mix of being shocked, proud, I just didn’t know what to think.”
“I was speechless for a good 20 minutes,” she said. “It was amazing. I’m so proud of her.”
The sister’s parents, Joe and Christine Danielsen, were out shopping while this was gong on.
“Jenna called me while we were in a store and told me what she did,” Christine Danielsen said. “We were in absolute shock. She had mentioned it to me in the past and I told her that she didn’t have to do that, there were other ways to support her sister and her sister wasn’t asking her to do that, but whatever it was she decided to do, it was her decision and I would support her. But I honestly didn’t think it was going to happen.”
(Joe Danielsen, a state Assemblyman representing the 17th District, has for the past nine years shaved his head for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, an organization that raises money to fight childhood cancer. This year, Danielsen was the top individual fund raiser for the event sponsored by the North Plainfield Fire Department. Danielsen’s son, Joey, has also participated in the event in the past.)
Christine Danielsen said she told Jenna to send her a picture.
“I couldn’t wait till we got home to see this,” she said.
“I am so proud of her,” she said. “There are not many girls at 13, who are in middle school and who had very long hair, who would do this.”
Jenna said the reaction at school was positive.
“Everyone was really nice and supportive,” she said. “I had a lot of compliments, a lot of shocked faces. A lot of people told me I had a nice head.”
Ava is known to many staff and students at the middle school, Jenna said, so there were not many questions as to why she did it.
Jenna said she now wants to match her hair growth with her sister’s “so our hair can grow back together.”
Ava said Jenna also alleviated one of her worries about the early stages of her hair growing back, when it’s really short.
“Sometimes that looks weird,” she said. “So I was afraid to go through that, but I have to because I want my hair back, and now I have someone to go through it with me, it’s not just me. I like that.”
Ava said she’s been told that her hair should show itself sometime in January or February.
In the meantime, Ava said, she’s going as she is.
“I don’t want to wear the wig,” she said. “I want to rock what I have, so I don’t wear it.”
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Copyright 2016 The Franklin Reporter & Advocate