Editor’s note: This story is a continuation of last week’s column.
“Call Jon in Minneapolis,” my husband urged when black stubble finally pricked through the surface of my skull. Black? Me? What happened to blonde? It was a relief to feel growth on my head, but I couldn’t get my brain around black. And who was Jon?
“Actually, it’s more salt and pepper,” Gary said without looking up from the computer.
“Salt and pepper is for grandmothers,” I said. My husband and daughter exchanged glances and smirked.
Our conversations during that surreal year twisted and turned like one of those movies with about 12 stories happening simultaneously.
After my diagnosis, my friend Rebecca sent me a box of caps, wigs, and scarves; plus crazy, playful, funny hats I couldn’t bear to look at. I didn’t want head coverings because I didn’t want cancer. Lauren wore the green wig to school on Crazy Hair Day, and I threw the rest into my closet.
By the time my hair started to fall out, I was so tired I didn’t even care. We snipped it off as a family and tossed it in the breeze. “The birds will use it for their nests, Mommy,” Lauren said, skipping around our backyard.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I finished treatment. I was skinny, which was weird; worn out, which was understandable; and bald, which was mortifying.
“Now go see Jon in Minneapolis,” Gary said again.
Something held me back. Self-indulgence doesn’t come easily for me, and I knew a relationship with Jon would be expensive.
Plus, as a married woman, I wasn’t in the habit of flying to faraway cities to meet strangers, but my husband was insistent. He’d take me in his arms and tell me again and again that I was worth it, that he wanted me to have what only Jon could give.
“At least call him,” Gary persisted. “He sounds like a nice guy.”
Nervously I took the phone. Feeling like a freshman with the wrong brand of sneakers, I managed to say hello. Jon asked me questions. Some were kind of personal, but I did my best to answer even with Gary listening in on the other line.
Before I knew it, Gary was sending Jon photos of me and booking tickets. “Minneapolis? In January? Who does that?” I asked incredulously.
It was negative 6 degrees when we arrived, and the next day I met Jon. He brushed his hands through my hair, which was a few inches long and decidedly gray by this time.
“We can do it,” he said. “It’s long enough.” I sat down, and then he draped me in a black cape and wheeled his equipment to my side. In the mirror in front of me, I saw an elderly version of myself.
“I’m going to make you even more beautiful,” Jon said gently, and I could feel tears threatening the corners of my eyes. Gary and Lauren headed to the Mall of America. “See you in seven hours,” they said.
Jon is a hair guy, and my husband found him on the internet after he was interviewed on a morning talk show. He specializes in offering hair extensions to women who have lost their hair to chemo. Hollywood stars get this treatment all the time, but Jon developed a technique for doing it to cancer patients.
That morning, “God music” blasted from unseen speakers while Jon sang along. He’s an uber-Christian and has dedicated this part of his life to helping chemo girls like me. His skill set and methods are unique, and women from all over the world visit him after cancer treatment.
Jon’s equipment was a mountain of 22-inch blond hair, a container of glue, and tools that looked like they belong on a construction site. With deft fingers, this tall, dark stranger grabbed a clump of that hair, dotted the tip of it with glue, and attached it to my head.
I watched, fascinated, a personal revolution unfolding before my eyes, while he repeated this process over and over again. Slowly, my cropped gray hair yielded to long blonde goodness, to normalcy.
By the time Gary and Lauren returned, I was experiencing a duckling-to-swan moment. When I met Jon, my hair had never looked worse. And when I left, it had never looked better. I was awestruck.
But that day wasn’t just about looks; it was about something bigger. As I stepped out the door, icy wind whipped through my fabulous hair, and I said goodbye, not just to Jon, but to cancer.
And then I said hello to a cruise to the Caribbean and fruity drinks that come with those corny mini-umbrellas. Gary had sneaked a bikini into our suitcase full of thermal underwear. My husband is a man of surprises, and so is this crazy, messy, imperfect, fabulous life.
Jon’s salon was the final scene of a tortuously long movie about illness, fear, and suffering. But it was the opening shot of something new, a big, beautiful adventure called life.
To contact Jon Richards about his hair extension program for cancer patients and survivors, Chemo Girls, email [email protected] or call 612-332-2600.
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