When Ann McCarron’s hair started to fall out at work, predictably on the 14th day after her first chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer, her colleague, Rick Beaulac, didn’t hesitate to support her. That very day he shaved his head in a wordless and profound act of solidarity.
Despite going through grueling treatments of chemo—as well as a mastectomy—McCarron says losing her hair was especially tough. “The hair loss was one of the most difficult and emotional things,” she says. “It’s a universal symbol that I am a cancer patient. I had a lot of hair. This is a whole new look, and it’s an adjustment.” When Beaulac gently reminds her she is acancer survivor now, their unspoken respect is evident.
Since joining WPI four years ago, McCarron, WPI’s associate athletic director, always knew she could rely on Beaulac, WPI’s sports equipment manager/utility worker/assistant softball coach, when she needed to get something done. But she didn’t know how much of an emotional support her colleague was until her cancer diagnosis.
“He said he was going to do it,” says McCarron of Beaulac’s shaved head, “but then he actually did it.” In a crowd of others who said they would do the same thing, Beaulac’s follow-through spoke volumes to McCarron. “I just think it’s amazing for him to do it. I know he gets the cancer.”
Beaulac is no stranger to the havoc cancer inflicts, and McCarron’s diagnosis hit him close to home. “Her cancer diagnosis sort of struck me hard,” says Beaulac. “Both my mother and father died young of cancer. It’s a thing in my heart that touches me a lot.” Beaulac knows the fear, the physical challenges, and the emotional upheaval of a cancer diagnosis, and he wanted to offer support in his own way. “Cancer walks aren’t my thing,” he says. “I want to give something back somewhere.”
McCarron’s aggressive breast cancer was caught early at Stage 1, thanks to detection at her yearly mammogram in March. It didn’t spread to her lymph nodes, and she says her doctors at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have given her a great prognosis. “They got it all, and I’ve got the best possible outcome,” she says.
McCarron just completed her fourth and final chemo treatment.
Since the diagnosis, McCarron has pushed herself to come to work, even when chemo makes her feel rock-bottom awful. “I have to,” she says. “It’s an important part of who I am. I need to work.”
Beaulac, who saw her arriving early and showing up when she didn’t have to, says she went above and beyond what was required of her. But he understands why she did it. “She’s a trooper,” he says.
“This is small peanuts compared to what she’s going through,” says Beaulac, whose wife and friends are still getting used to (and teasing him about) his new look. But when he tells them the reason for his abrupt change, they understand.
And, yes, Beaulac’s gesture has been a great source of amusement. “I’ll do anything I can do to help – from electrical to hairdo,” he quips. They laugh about needing extra sunblock, feeling startled at the wind on a previously well-protected head, and how chilly temperatures now require a hat. At this point, he likes the new look enough to say he might just keep it for good. Joking that she’d probably put it on backwards, McCarron opted to forgo a wig, but does prefer to wear a bandana on her head most of the time.
The mutual admiration between McCarron and Beaulac has taken on a new meaning. Each describes the other as a dedicated and devoted worker who always gives more, does more, and achieves more than (s)he needs to.
“People have stepped up and supported me, and everyone at WPI has been fantastic,” says MnCarron. But Beaulac’s bald head is a visual reminder of an unwavering and unexpected support in a time when it was so deeply needed. “It is something I will never forget,” she says.
BY JULIA QUINN-SZCESUIL