From 3a to 4c; hair is a lifelong journey of learning and loving
Hello! If you’re like me, and I kind of hope you are, this year has been a bit slow to start, making today the first real work week of the year. Last week just was a warm up—a time to find a groove and hype yourself up to actually start answering emails. How did the first week of this new year treat you? Drop one word in the comments to describe your 2022 thus far!
I want to dive right into this one. We know that a Black woman’s hair makes up a precarious battleground. Our hair continually sparks conversations around beauty standards, body politics, and even self-love. Ultimately, the hair journey is a personal one, with plenty of factors playing into the choices we as Black women make about our hair, or can make about it.
This week, Jazmin Towe shares her loc journey, one that coincided with and was inspired by her mother’s battle with breast cancer. It’s an unexpected story, just as telling about the ways illness can break hearts and strengthen bonds as it is about her hair, her mother’s hair, and what it all means to her. It goes without saying—a hair journey can heal.
At the end of October 2021, frustrated with my hair and in need of something new, I started my own loc journey. Bored with braids and unable to manage my natural hair, I believed locking my hair would be the best way for me to take care of it. And it has been; learning to care for my hair has meant trusting my intuition on who to entrust it with, talking to my hair when it isn’t complying with me (it works), and knowing what it needs and when to provide it. In all of that, I’m learning about myself, too, and healing parts of me that have been neglected.
Maybe hair is just hair. But for many of us, it’s a lifelong journey of learning, caring for, and, gently, loving our natural curls and coils—one worth embracing and restarting and reimagining as often as we see fit. Jazmin’s story shows us how the stories of ourselves, our transitions, and our healing can be found in our hair.
Associate Editor of Carefree Magazine
How My Mother’s Cancer Reshaped Our Relationship
by Jazmin Towe
I always loved my mother’s hair. When I was younger, she was always the type to experiment with different hairstyles and colors. As a hairstylist herself, she was not afraid to switch up whenever she felt the urge. I saw her go from high ponytails to short cuts, and different shades of red, pink, purple and blue to jet black. My mom’s vibrant personality and creativity was displayed with each new style.
In the early 2000s, I saw her with something I’d previously never seen on her before; she decided to start her loc journey. But she was only a year into her first set before she had to shave them all off due to the effects of radiation and chemotherapy.
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time when I was in fifth grade. She waited for over a year to get a lump in her breast checked before ultimately being diagnosed at stage 3; she had waited so long that she was almost in stage 4. I only found out when I discovered a breast cancer pamphlet from her doctor’s office in the pocket behind her driver’s seat. She started radiation and chemotherapy immediately and soon realized that due to the severe side effects, she would have to cut her hair.
I remember watching my mom sit in the kitchen with tears in her eyes as my cousin cut off handful after handful of locs until there were none left. I could feel her pain from across the room—it was as if the reality of actually living with cancer was starting to set in. She put them in a clear Ziplock bag to keep in her closet. Seeing the visible heartbreak on her face, knowing she was no longer able to maintain her locs, I knew that I wanted to start my own in her honor.
I begged my mom to let me start locs. Since I was only in the fifth grade and still pretty young, she repeatedly told me no; she felt that I would eventually tire of them and didn’t want me to have to cut all my hair off and start over. This has always been funny to me considering the fact that she never before had an issue starting over with her own hair. For the next few years, my hair remained braided, with the occasional beads, as it had for most of my childhood.
Meanwhile, with our family there to help every step of the way, my mom valiantly battled cancer. Raising three kids was no easy feat, but no matter how bad she felt, my mom never missed any significant event in our lives. At the beginning of the treatment, her doctor told her that the medication would have her down, so whenever she felt like she could get up and go, she should do so. She was there for orientation when we transitioned into middle school. She attended every game, competition, and recital.
Then, by the time I got to eighth grade, my mom realized I was serious about starting my loc journey through constantly bringing up the conversation and, at times, begging. After waiting for 3 years, she asked again if I was ready, and I gave her the same answer: yes.
I didn’t realize it then but starting my locs would be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I sat in the chair at the salon, in the chair of the same cousin that had cut my mother’s locs years before. I wanted to go all in and start from the beginning, so I chose to cut all my hair off and start with twists. My mom asked me over and over if I was sure and cried as chunks of my hair fell to the floor. I felt no regrets or remorse whatsoever—for 3 straight years, I had known that this is something I wanted and needed to do. I was more than sure.
Within that same year, the cancer returned. My mom opted for a double mastectomy—she had both breasts completely removed to reduce the chance of breast cancer recurrence. Due to the surgery—I can recall the date easily as it fell on Halloween of my freshman year—this second journey was significantly harder than the first. There was a drastic contrast in my mom’s behavior as well. When she was first diagnosed, I never saw her cry or seem as though she was suffering. When the cancer came back, I saw my mom almost broken. In talking to her now as an adult, my mom admitted that she broke down in the parking lot after receiving the news. She felt defeated.
Having two children transitioning into high school didn’t make it easier. Support from the entire family was heavily needed at that time, for my mom and for us. Personally, I was more afraid the second time around; there were nights that I’d stay awake just to make sure my mom was still breathing. Through it all, she tried her hardest to hide her pain from us. Being a mom myself now, I appreciate her perspective. If there is anything I can do to shield my child from pain or stress, I will do it without hesitation.
Over 4 years after the initial diagnosis, my mother finally went into remission. Again, she never missed any significant events in our lives. She was always right there, usually somewhere near the front row, with the assistance of friends and family. And, in typical mother fashion, she never let me neglect taking care of my hair. While externally dealing with my mom’s physical sickness, I was internally learning to navigate daily through the “ugly” phase of locs in high school. A good portion of the confidence that I have today can be attributed to my mother constantly reassuring us that we were beautiful. We bonded through wash days and retwists. Our connection grew stronger and so did my mother. Eventually, her hair grew enough to the point where she could start another set of locs, and I sat with her and helped her start that set with my own hands.
My mom has been in remission for over 14 years and is on her fourth set. I’m still on my first set of locs, coming up on 15 years. My older sister is about 9 years into her journey. Our bond is still as strong as ever, and I talk to both of them every single day. We regularly talk about new hair colors, styles and jewelry.
In all she does, I look at my mother and admire her strength and resilience.
I once asked her how she got through all of it—the illness, being denied disability twice, still having to raise children, to name a few—and she simply said, “That’s what a mother does. She fights through all her pain and everything to be there for her children.”
Jazmin Towe is a freelance writer and editor, covering topics ranging from education to parenting and social media. She is also the founder of Towe Editing and has previously collaborated on young adult novels and children's books. Jazmin, currently working on a series of children's books, is a North Carolina native. She is family-oriented and has a passion for early education; if not writing, you will find her educating and spending time with her son. You can follow her on social media @herdreadsrock.
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