‘Your hair isn’t you’: Family members choose bald

Adult siblings shave their heads after hearing of their mother’s stage-four cancer diagnosis

Jodi after.jpg
Jodi Berning, owner of Broadway Floral, smiles as she presents her new hairdo. "I sit here and rub my little stubby head,” she said. (Contributed)

Choosing to have a bald head during the winter months isn’t a comfortable hairstyle for Minnesotans, but it was a no-brainer decision for siblings Jodi Berning and Michael Rost of Alexandria.

Their mother, Judith Rost, was diagnosed with stage-four cancer. Since they’re unable to visit her in Texas, they’re doing whatever they can to show their love from across the country.

“I may not survive, so the kids were really upset over hearing the prognosis,” Judith said.

Finding ways to ‘fix it’

She said her son Michael took it the hardest, so he was the first to decide to shave.

When his mother had breast cancer 15 years prior, Michael said he looks back and regrets not being there for her more often.


“But then I’m like, ‘You know what? I wasn’t supportive last time, I’m going to be supportive this time,’” he said.

He ordered bracelets and T-shirts. He changed the color of his Fitbit watch to match the lymphoma cancer color: green. He raised money for the American Cancer Society.

And the next step? Shaving his head.

“I can’t say it was long, but for me it was long,” Michael said. “I was growing it out, I was taking care of it and I liked it, but I didn’t even give it a second thought.”

Every time Judith goes through a round of chemotherapy, Michael said he will shave his head again.

“I’m not there in Texas, I’m up here,” Michael said. “We talk every once in a while, but then you figure, you know, ‘If she was gone, I wouldn’t really miss her.’ No! I bawled for her two or three hours a night for the first week when I found out.”

He said he couldn’t focus on his work either. His boss got mad at Michael when he was sitting around not doing anything. After Michael told him he just heard about his mother’s cancer diagnosis, his boss stopped and apologized immediately.

“I really wish there was a cure,” Michael said. “I’m really good with my hands. I can pretty much fix anything. I’m good with computers, I can do any kind of construction work, I can cook, I can sew. So when a challenge faces me, I don’t worry because I can usually fix it. This is the one thing that I’m looking at that I wanna fix, and I can’t.”


‘You’re next’

The family gathered in the back garage of Broadway Floral to host the livestream head shaving. While recording Michael’s haircut, Jodi commented that it was the longest her hair had ever been, measuring about 12 inches.

“The whole thing was, ‘Jodi, you’re next,’” she said. “And I’m like, ‘Are you high?’ I don’t think so.’”

But the more she thought about it, Jodi said this was all she could do for her mother. When Judith went through treatment for breast cancer, she was in the area and Jodi could do more for her.

“I seriously feel totally helpless with her being so far away,” Jodi said. “If I can show her I can do it (shave), I think that would be a good support for her.”

Within 24 hours, Jodi held a second livestream for her own haircut, and between 600 and 700 viewers tuned in to watch. Jodi had her hair cut off in ponytails first so that she could donate it to an organization that makes wigs for kids.

“They went through the whole bit again,” Judith said. “I’m just kind of proud of them that they did that, and I was touched. I know that they can’t come down here. They’re both working.”


‘Loud and proud about being bald’

After posting her livestream shaving video to Facebook, Jodi said a few friends reached out to her unexpectedly. One shared that she’s going through treatment for breast cancer and can’t stand looking at herself in the mirror after losing her hair from the chemotherapy.

“You don’t have to be alone, and you don’t have to be embarrassed,” Jodi said. “Your hair isn’t you.”

She had no idea her friend was going through this, yet she was willing to open up and share with Jodi after seeing her post.

“It just made me happier after that, knowing that this can help other people be OK with what they’re going through,” she said. “Really, I think the realization is your beauty isn’t in your hair at all. Your beauty is inside of you.”

Jodi acknowledged why this would be a hard thing for many women, especially those who are sick and don’t have the choice. She said she’s been called sir multiple times, and mask-wearing doesn’t help. People have approached her in the store and said they could never do it.

“I’m not offended in the least, but people going through cancer treatment might be highly offended,” Jodi said. “I can’t even imagine all the things that they still have to deal with.”

She said she tries not to hide it with a hat or wrap, so she sees people staring sometimes.

“I think the point of doing all of this is to be loud and proud about being bald and the reason behind it,” Jodi said.


Getting treatments, staying busy

When Judith had breast cancer, the chemotherapy affected her memory. It took her a few years to recover to the point where she could apply for jobs again.

When she retired and moved south, her husband told her she should finish the book she’d been working on, which took about 12 years from start to finish. Judith published her first book at age 68. Most recently, she released the fourth book in her River Falls Mystery Series .

She and her husband reside in Texas for the majority of the year, so she said this terminal diagnosis of stage-four non-hodgkins lymphoma has been harder on her family since they’re separated by more than 1,000 miles. Judith and her husband typically only come to Minnesota for short-term summer visits.

At Judith’s age, she said chemotherapy and radiation are risky treatments, but she’s hoping to beat cancer for a second time. She posts videos on Facebook so her loved ones can follow along with her journey, no matter where they live.

“I’m going to die from this, or I’m just going to have to keep doing chemo for the rest of my life to keep the cancer from growing too fast,” she said. “It’s a very aggressive-growing cancer from what the doctors have told me.”

Judith started radiation Tuesday, Nov. 24, and she has five more treatments of chemotherapy. The doctor told her she will most likely never make full remission.

Judith started a journal to document her experience living with cancer and all the treatments that accompany it. Because of COVID-19, she wasn’t able to get the tests she needed early enough. The specialists she had to see refused to go into hospitals at the time she wanted to schedule an appointment.

She was diagnosed two months after she had originally planned to go to the hospital. Judith said that’s why the cancer advanced to stage four before she could start treatment.


“During that time period, the cancer grew very quickly,” she said. “I’m basically telling it as it was, how it was discovered.”

As long as she’s healthy enough to sit and write, Judith said she will continue to work on writing a new series.

“I have to keep my mind off of my illness and just keep moving forward,” she said. “I’m just praying that I will have a miracle and that I can prove the doctors wrong.”

Jasmine Johnson joined the Echo Press staff in May 2020 as a general assignment reporter. She grew up in Becker, Minn., and later studied journalism and graphic design at Bethel University in Arden Hills, Minn.
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