Danielle Dietrick was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, bone cancer, when she was just 16. While surgically removing the tumors, she also lost her left shoulder, humerus, and connective tissue.
It changed her outlook on life, and it posed challenges emotionally.
Hear more from Danielle about her journey with cancer, and how she made a big step to make a bold statement against cancer.
As a senior in high school, the only thing worse than having cancer is looking like you have cancer. So, I gained all the weight that I had lost, as to not look so sick. I had long, black Kim Kardashian extensions in my hair everyday, and always made sure to draw on my eyebrows. My motto through my whole cancer journey has been “Look good, feel good.”
I can admit after losing my arm (and therefore my independence), I was drowning in a pool of depression and self pity. I prayed for a magical way to make my new 12-inch scar disappear. It was all I could see when I looked in the mirror. It served as a horrible and painful reminder of everything I had lost due to such an unfair disease.
Thankfully I had the Kardashian hair extensions to cover it up. Looking healthy helped me feel healthy.
As time went on and I learned to use my new arm I started feeling back to normal. There were some bumps in the road to recovery and a few more surgeries and health scares, but nevertheless I kept up my image (and Instagram account – haha). Ever since surgery, I haven’t felt pretty in that “wake up and go” kind of way. It didn’t matter how many people would tell me differently, I just couldn’t see it. So I used my makeup, clothes, and my hair to distract myself and others from my scars.
Fast forward to 2018.
My new arm was beginning to fail. I was devastated. The artificial joint was dislocating constantly and the new tendons were “rippin n’ slippin” all over the place. The pain became increasingly unbearable and I was on so many medications that the rest of my body was paying the price. I got some scans and visited another specialist and we decided on another big surgery. I don’t think I initially took into consideration the risk factors that come into play during an operation as complex as this one.
First of all, this is the first time this surgery is being done, and it is a completely customized prosthetic approved just for me by the FDA. This means that we must go in hoping for the best possible outcome, but also keep in mind that there are no guaranteed results. It also means that given my medical history, I am at a very high risk for infection. If I get an infection in my bone, prosthetic, or cadaver then we will be fighting for a lot more than just to save my arm.
Heavy stuff, am I right?
Obviously we don’t want to take any risks and hair becomes one of those risks. Wet hair laying/ dripping on my arm could pose a threat. In addition, I will also be losing my mobility and won’t be physically able to put my own hair up and off the shoulder by myself. A huge component of healing physically and mentally after is regaining my independence. I know that shaving my head not only protects me from infection, but also will grant me more independence when getting ready in the morning.
Last time around I learned that trying to do your hair with one arm is nearly impossible. Knowing all of this, it should have been a pretty easy decision to just go in and chop it off.
However, that was not the case.
I think I spent upwards of 40-hours googling “cute curly pixie cuts” and “how to do girly makeup with a shaved head”.
Why was I so nervous? Why did I care so much? Am I really that vain? These and many more questions bounced around in my head for about a week. The fears and hesitations boiled down to three main things:
1. I do not want to look sick.
2. Will it feel like one more part of me is being taken away because of cancer?
3. And of course, will I still feel pretty?
So let’s explore these a little more.
I thought of all my friends who have gone through cancer and had to shave their heads. I thought of how beautiful they all still looked and started to feel like a big hypocrite for thinking negatively about shaving my own. They could rock it, so why couldn’t I? I was so fearful of looking sick. I already get questions about my scar on a regular basis, was I ready to give people something else to ask about? That all lead to my next emotional dilemma.
I had to retrain my mind to tell myself that this was going to be MY choice. NOT cancer’s choice.
Cancer has taken quite a lot from me already, I was not about to let it tell me what to do with my hair, too. I had to switch up my way of thinking. Instead of being sad about losing my hair, I thought of it as a big metaphorical middle finger; a big “beat ya to it!” to that stupid disease.
Finally, of course, I recognized the Kardashian-loving girl inside of me and started to panic about my appearance. I was nervous that my family and friends would think I looked too different, I was scared that my boyfriend wouldn’t find me as attractive, I even worried that my ID wouldn’t work at bars anymore! Looking back, these were all really silly concerns, but I am glad I let myself feel every emotion that I had instead of pretending like I wasn’t thinking about all of that.
Once I explored all of those scary thoughts, I knew it was time. I just had to go for it, make the appointment and not look back. But where does a girl go to shave her head? I had no clue.
I figured that it would be best if I went to a barber, because hey…if I am about to look like a dude, I better look like a hot dude. So I asked around and did some research and ended up at Jonny the Barber in downtown Buffalo. Let me just tell you, I actually feel bad for all you ladies who never have to shave your head because this place and the staff at Jonny’s is AMAZING.
After having a full blown panic attack and meltdown parking the car, I walked in shaking like a scared chihuahua, but was instantly distracted by the amazing smell and the classy black and white decor. It felt like I went back in time to a classic barber shop in New York City. I was obviously the only girl in there and was doing my best to hold back tears. It was go time.
Before I knew it, my pony tail was on the ground and I felt a strange breeze on my head. I am not going to lie, I was freaking out. My barber was smart and turned me away from the mirror the entire time, but I could still hear the buzzing behind me. My best friend, Lauren, and my boyfriend were there to make me laugh and their excitement helped get me excited to see the end result. I have to give a huge shout out to Jonny and Muki, the barbers, who not only ended up nailing my haircut, but also for letting me cry, laugh, and share my story. They both were so compassionate and truly made a very scary and emotional experience one that I can look back on and smile about.
Once it was done and I was swiveled back around to look in the mirror, I was shocked. All of those fears I walked in with where swept away with the hair on the ground. I looked so different!
I sent pictures to a few of my super close friends and my mom. Getting my mom’s stamp of approval felt the best. She has been and is still the biggest help through all of this and she took on the “mom-cologist” role without a blink of an eye.
The next morning, all of that adrenaline and confidence disappeared. I didn’t have Jonny or Muki at home to make my hair look good anymore and I had no clue where to start after I got out of the shower. I psyched myself out big time. I cried in the mirror and wished for my hair back. But I knew I couldn’t hide in my apartment forever and went to work against my will.
I got such an amazing and supportive response there that I decided to face my fear and post a picture of it. The response was so unexpected and amazing. I had people leaving the sweetest comments and my inbox was flooded with encouraging messages. It was so cool to not only hear that they liked the look, but that I inspired them to want to be brave about something in their own lives as well.
All in all I love my new hair. It is easy to work with, I am learning to do more things with it everyday, and most importantly it will keep me healthy after my operation. I still have my bad hair days and even have days where I don’t feel as girlie as I once did, but thanks to all of the super supportive compliments and adorable head accessories from Sister Stella (thank you Hannah!!) I get through them one day at a time!