“Anyone want to rub my mohawk before it goes?”
Unlikely words for a college professor. But as they fell merrily from women studies professor Linda Hummer’s mouth, several weeping students got up from their seats to run their fingers along the remaining strip of hair.
After two mentors shaved her bald in front of her “Women, Creativity and Healing” class, students used markers to decorate her head with flowers and stars.
“Are you going to chemo like this?” one student asked.
“Of course,” Hummer said, drawing a curl on her temple.
Hummer found out she had breast cancer the day she graduated from Portland State. She was 32-years-old and had no family history of the disease. Within six months she had lost both breasts. In the following years, she participated in various social programs at Portland and Mt. Hood Community Colleges, working with single mothers and painting murals with high school kids.
Three years later, the cancer returned. Last January, while walking through the Park Blocks, she found she couldn’t move her leg. The cancer had spread to her bones. Now 37, and going through another round of chemotherapy, Hummer said shaving her head in front of her class was a lesson in the art of creative healing.
“Ritual and recognizing significant changes in life is an important part of healing,” she said.
The first time she shaved her head before chemotherapy, she had her children help her. Though it was a traumatic experience for them, she said being a part of the experience was “better than being locked out of it.”
One of the purposes of the class, Hummer said, is to explore several aspects of art therapy, whether it is dealing with sexual abuse using clay or decorating a bald head before chemotherapy. Throughout her life, Hummer said, she’s suffered a barraged of abusive situations and finding a creative outlet has always carried her through.
“I choose to live,” she said as the last bit of hair fell to the floor. “When I put it in that way, my hair seems pretty insignificant.”
“I find any experience as a student with Mrs. Hummer to be profound and a chance for students to really grow, which is beyond the duties of a professor. I know many students who have been personally touched by her taking such risks,” said undergraduate Courtney Morse, who took Hummer’s “Intro to Women’s Studies” class.
Hummer has taught at PSU for 10 years in all. After receiving a master’s in education at PSU she did adjunct work for the first few years and has been in the women’s studies department for the last four.