Should I Shave My Head or Write a Book?

Courtesy of Chris Stepien. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Courtesy of Chris Stepien. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

The service advisor at my car dealer razor cuts his hair to show support for his wife. I’ve known him for years and he’s always clean-shaven on top. The love of his life is in a long battle with cancer. Very long.

In October 2014, my wife, Ellen, had a mammogram on our anniversary. Five months later, after her mastectomy, I was shaving her head in our laundry room. She’d started chemo and her hair was likely to fall out any day. We’d gone wig shopping and the stylist had chopped off Ellen’s pretty blonde locks as part of the package deal. But feathery wisps started growing back, despite the first two rounds of chemo. We didn’t want the fuzz falling off in her cereal, so I broke out my electric razor. She was a good sport and we laughed about the shaving.

Early on, we decided to face breast cancer honestly. It was liberating. No pretending it couldn’t kill her or that she would live forever. We’d fight hard, but with the ever-present knowledge that we were both going to die. It was only a matter of when, where and how.

There were a few tears at the diagnosis but minimal drama. Maybe it had something to do with my own whiff of death. In 2004, emergency surgery for a spontaneous bowel perforation slapped us with a dose of mortality. My chronic Crohn’s disease reminds us to be grateful for our blessings. One doctor recently said, “You almost died back then.”

But it was Ellen’s oncologist who moved me to write a book about dying, dedicated to my lovely wife. This man, who deals with grim diagnoses every day, was offering Ellen a guarantee. Not a cure, but a promise that the poison he would use to attack her cancer would definitely make her hair fall out.

And that’s when it hit me. The only true guarantee in life is that we’re going to die. The cancer guru couldn’t even be certain that the tumor would kill Ellen. A car crash might do it or she could simply drift away on the pillow next to me one night. And that assumes that I’m not the first to take a dirt nap in a pine box.


The book is Dying to Be Happy: Discovering the Truth About Life. It asks: “If you knew you were going to die today, what would you do?”

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Following my master, Jesus Christ, I’m suggesting that embracing our mortality on a daily basis is key to happiness in this life and the next. That’s the Gospel truth about life.

If we can be honest enough to admit we’re going to die ¾ what are we going to do about it? How are we going to live?

Jesus said, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” (John 12:25)

That’s the definition of dying to be happy.

And don’t forget, the Lord also said: “Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid.” (Luke 12:7)


Copyright 2016 Chris Stepien

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  1. Thank you for writing this, I will have to read your book. I am dealing with something similar… Our baby (1.5 yo) has cancer….mortality has never been so obvious to me as it is now.

    • Thank you for sharing your story. What a heavy cross. Remember, even Jesus accepted help carrying his. We will thank the Lord for every day before our feet hit the floor. Know that he’s counting the hairs on your head and your baby’s. Peace.

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