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Styling and smiling in the face of cancer

Hairstylist Michelyne Lagotte fits Paulette Zschiedrich with a wig at the Canadian Cancer Society office. - Paul Rudan/The Mirror
Hairstylist Michelyne Lagotte fits Paulette Zschiedrich with a wig at the Canadian Cancer Society office.
— image credit: Paul Rudan/The Mirror

After another battle with cancer, her hair is finally growing back, but Paulette Zschiedrich knows it won’t be long.

She soon faces another round of chemotherapy and and her thick crop of silver hair will fall out yet again.

“You keep fighting back. I am an optimist,” she says with a smile seemingly too big for someone who has suffered so much.

By her 60th birthday, the entire mother’s side of Zschiedrich’s family had perished from multiple forms of cancer.

“We’re genetically disposed,” she simply explains.

Her father, after a lifetime of working with asbestos, died of lung cancer at age 62.

Espohagal cancer struck her first husband – the father of her three children. But after surgery to remove his esophagus, he contracted a bacterial infection and died.

One of her daughters successfully fought off two different cancer attacks. And, just two weeks ago, her brother succumbed to cancer.

“I’m surrounded by it,” says Zschiedrich. “I thought I had missed it, but five years ago I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. I was 62.”

That was 2007 and it was only the beginning of cancer treatment. More tumours were found on her ovarian tubes and the next year bigger tumours were found around her spine.

Last year, cancer showed up in her brain, liver, heart and neck. In July she finished a year of chemotherapy and this December, when she turns 67,

Zschiedrich will go through another form of cancer treatment.

“Every time it metastasis they have to try something different,” she says. “It’s just not a nice thing, but you can’t let it win.”

From day one of her diagnosis, Zschiedrich has survived thanks to modern medicine and a super-positive disposition to live.

That’s why, on this day, she’s visiting the Canadian Cancer Society office in Campbell River to have someone fuss over her.

“There, that looks good,” says Michelyne Lagotte, a hairstylist who volunteers her time to make other women look great and to feel good about themselves while battling a horrendous disease.

After losing both parents to cancer, Lagotte decided to give back. Eight years ago she began volunteering at the cancer society in Nanaimo and recently she relocated to the Comox Valley.

Lagotte now volunteers at the Courtenay and Campbell River cancer society offices. She fits ladies with wigs, scarves or hats, and ensures everything is clean and germ-free, because that’s what you do for people who have severely weakened immune systems from cancer treatment.

“To me, being a hairstylist means making people feel good about themselves. That’s what this is all about,” says Lagotte.

The wig room at the cancer society office is in its own cozy office. It’s outfitted with a plush red chair and love seat, a stylist’s centre for Lagotte, and backed by a wall of white styrofoam heads all donning wigs aligned in various shades.

“The best thing is, they’re free. All we ask is you return them,” says Lagotte.

They’re synthetic wigs too, so you have to be careful around the stove, she explains. If you bend down too far and get too close while checking out that roast, you might just singe the bangs, and that just won’t do for the stylin’ Lagotte who inspects her current inventory.

“The selection is not too bad, but some are dated. No one wants to wear a 30-year-old style,” she cooly advises.

Lagotte then turns her attention to someone more deserving of her skills, Zschiedrich who takes a seat in the stylist’s chair. Lagotte adjusts the sizes and then fits Zschiedrich with wigs in shades of blonde, red and dirty blonde.

Zschiedrich is partial to the red, but the blonde one looks good too. She takes a good look in the mirror and smiles back at the reflection. Lagotte smiles too at a job well done.

“Before cancer, I was never sick a day in my life,” says Zschiedrich. “I was told I could either live with or give up. I’m not giving up.”

 

Cancer prevention

 

Breast Cancer Awareness month is coming to a close, but women need to take care of themselves year-round, says Linda Lazare, president of the Campbell River chapter of the Canadian Cancer Society.

“Eat a good low-fat diet with lots of fruits and vegetables,” she says. Limit your salt, alcohol and caffeine, get plenty of regular exercise and get your breasts checked by your doctor and get your mammograms regularly as the earlier it is diagnosed the much better chances for survival.”

It’s good advice from a breast cancer survivor.

“I decided I needed to learn everything I could about this disease,” says Lazare. “I changed my lifestyle, especially diet and got on a regular exercise program. I keep my stress level under control, so my immune system can stay strong and I make sure and get plenty of rest.

  • The Campbell River cancer society office is located at 1423B-16th Ave., open Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • The office has all all kinds of free information, and support services, cancer connection, wigs, scarves, hats even breast prosthesis that are lent out.
  • The office also offers transportation and financial assistance for those that may need it.
  • Call 250 286-1955 or visit www.cancer.ca
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