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Hair donation fulfills promise to dying friend
When Bob Blount had his long hair and ponytail trimmed off at a local beauty salon last week, he was fulfilling a commitment made to a friend dying of cancer.
A year and a half ago, a tearful Arla Siderfin admitted to Blount that what terrified her the most about a cancer treatment she was about to undergo was not how long she would live, but what the treatment would do to her.
“She had just started this new treatment,” said Blount, a retired teacher now living in Osoyoos. “The doctor advised her that she would probably lose her hair, and she was a lovely lady, quite beautiful. She had a good head of blonde hair and she was quite proud of it.”
Moved by Siderfin’s emotions, Blount suggested he would offer her his hair for a wig, get his own hair shaved off and they could be bald together.
The two of them started to laugh at the idea and Blount was pleased that the laughter helped to bring Siderfin out of her sadness.
Nonetheless, Blount stuck to his word and started growing his hair that day in May 2012.
Siderfin was a childhood friend of Blount’s wife Lynne.
“She was my wife’s very best friend from the time they were two years old and lived next door to one another,” he said.
When Blount and his wife retired, they renewed the friendship with Siderfin, shortly before the Blounts moved to Osoyoos.
About four years ago, Siderfin was having a regular eye exam when the doctor discovered she had ocular melanoma, or eye cancer. It was diagnosed as operable, but Siderfin had to have her eye removed.
She lost her depth perception and as a result couldn’t pour wine or coffee and she had difficulty shaking hands. But otherwise, she continued her life as normal and was able to work and drive.
A subsequent diagnosis, however, found that the melanoma had metastasized, spreading to other parts of her body including her brain. Her condition deteriorated and she underwent numerous treatments at Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver.
When it became more difficult for Siderfin to travel to Osoyoos, the Blounts, especially Lynne, made regular trips to Vancouver to visit Siderfin as her situation got worse.
In September 2012, with Blount’s hair getting longer, the Blounts took a cruise to Alaska. When they phoned from Ketchikan, Siderfin’s daughter told them her mother was not doing well.
By the time they got back to Vancouver, Arla Siderfin had passed away.
At a family memorial service, Blount mentioned he had been growing his hair for Siderfin and some of her children suggested it no longer mattered now.
“I thought, yes it does matter,” said Blount. “I made her a promise and I’m going to fulfill it.”
Blount decided he would grow his hair to the required minimum length of eight inches and then donate it so it could be made into a wig for another cancer patient.
Over the next year, he let it grow, while Lynne helped him tie it into a ponytail each morning.
For Blount and his wife, the growing hair kept the memory of Siderfin alive, but as Blount readily admits, long hair is an annoyance to deal with.
“These long strands of broken hair were all over the place,” said Blount. “It’s worse than having a dog.”
This was only the second time in Blount’s life that he had long hair. The only other time was in the 1980s when he was on a sailing trip in the Pacific Ocean.
Finding someone to cut his hair according to instructions so that it could be accepted for a wig proved to be a bit of a challenge.
In particular, the hair must be cut so that it is at least eight inches long and it can’t be picked from the floor. Several barbers Blount talked to were too busy to take the extra time required.
In the end, Blount contacted his wife’s hairdresser, Susan Goldsmith at Beyond Beauty, who agreed to do it.
“I know barbershops,” said Blount. “I don’t know beauty parlours, so that was a little intimidating. I was intimidated sitting there among a lot of women in a beauty parlour.”
Goldsmith pulled Blount’s hair up into pigtails and cut each off separately, carefully setting them aside. She didn’t shave him bald, but Blount said the length was as much as 14 inches on the top, so there was enough to spare.
Did the experience raise Blount’s awareness of cancer? No, he said, his consciousness about cancer was already high from losing other friends and family to this disease that affects so many.
If anything comes from telling his story, he said, he hopes some may be encouraged to donate to a cancer charity.
“It’s not about me,” he said. “This is about cancer and Arla.”
His hair was donated to Eva and Co. Wigs, which has a hair donation program that donates wigs free to the Canadian Cancer Society.
This is one of two places in Vancouver that accept donated hair. The hair from one donor doesn’t necessarily make a single wig.
“It was more symbolic than anything else,” said Blount. “The idea at the initial stage was to take Arla’s mind off where she was and put her in a better place.”
Later, it became a way to honour the memory of a warm, joyful and loving woman the Blounts cared so much about.