Photo: Jon Shapley, Staff / Houston Chronicle
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At MD Anderson’s in-hospital beard salon, anybody is beautiful
Jim Wall’s wife didn’t appetite to barber his head. They don’t accept an electric razor at home, and she didn’t appetite to accident nicking his scalp.
So on a Wednesday morning in mid-July, Wall accomplish out of his allowance on the 15th attic of MD Anderson Blight Center, breadth the brace is blockage for the week, and takes the elevator to the hospital’s sixth-floor salon.
There, he meets Justine Joseph, the accountant beautician who has spent added than a decade active the salon, afterwards accession in Houston as a Hurricane Katrina alien in 2005. Joseph anxiously shaves Wall’s head. She listens as he talks about the 15-year-old Weimaraner he and his wife aloof had to put down, and the amazing Wi-Fi technology in his audition aids, which Joseph asked him to abolish for the haircut.
Wall, who is actuality advised for lymphoma, aboriginal noticed his beard falling out the antecedent Friday aback the aboriginal big globs came off in his comb, he tells Joseph. He put up with that for two canicule afore his wife took scissors to it on the aback porch.
Losing one’s beard is one of the best allegorical moments in blight affliction — a arresting arresting that addition has become ill. Typically, beard begins to abatement out aural two weeks of a patient’s aboriginal treatment. And at MD Anderson, that’s the moment abounding patients accommodated Joseph, the gentle-handed, open-hearted stylist who has formed on an boilerplate of 415 audience a ages for the accomplished decade, as the alone full-time stylist at the hospital’s centralized salon, which is adulatory its 60th ceremony this year.
She knows it’s an affecting moment for many. And over 10 years in the role, Joseph, who is 53, has accomplished herself to authority in her tears, and accompany out client’s smiles.
“I absolutely hated accident my hair,” says Wall, who is 78, as he sits in a atramentous chair, in advanced of Joseph. “Because for a guy my age, I had abundant hair.”
He pauses, and for a moment the alone complete in the salon is the quiet active of the razor, gliding over his anemic head.
“But it will appear back, I guess,” he says.
Joseph doesn’t absence a beat. “Yes, it will,” she says.
When Joseph is done, she anxiously allotment his audition aids, and asks if he wants a hat.
“I’ll abrasion this,” he says, acrimonious up the beach handkerchief he’s buried on his lap during the haircut. It’s formed into a makeshift headband, and aback he block it about the acme of his head, and stands up to acknowledge his abounding accouterments of gym shorts and T-shirt, he looks like he’s off to a analeptic basketball game, alike if he is tethered to a rolling IV angle that feeds him a abiding dribble of chemotherapy for 104-hour continued analysis cycles.
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“So what do I owe you?” he asks.
“Nothing. Everything is complimentary.”
“Can I accord you a tip?”
“Don’t anguish about that.”
“Are you sure?” he asks, one duke in his pocket.
“I’m positive,” Joseph tells him. “But you can accomplish a donation in the appointment if you’d like.”
When Joseph began administration beard at MD Anderson, she couldn’t accomplish it through a banal afterwards crying. If a accommodating let a breach drop, chastening were aloof a half-second behind.
“I had it bad aback I aboriginal started. I absolutely didn’t apperceive if I could do it,” she says during a attenuate abeyance amid clients. “I don’t anticipate I was allowance the situation. I was aloof crying, because I’d aloof attending at them, and you know. Aback they cry, I cry.”
That was added than a decade ago. Joseph was amid the bags of evacuees who came to Houston from New Orleans afterwards Hurricane Katrina aged their city.
She was still new in boondocks aback she happened to apprehend a woman allocution about her adherence on the radio. It batten to Joseph, who alleged the buzz cardinal the woman apprehend on the air at the end of her speech.
It angry out, the woman was a stylist at MD Anderson. Alike afterwards a diffuse career as a stylist in New Orleans, Joseph had never heard of a hospital with a beard salon — a attenuate amenity. But it articulate like the affectionate of assignment that could advice her acquisition a purpose — and body the foundations of a new activity — in Houston.
“I told her I absolutely don’t apperceive how continued I’m activity to be in Houston, but can I advance with you?” Joseph remembers now.
She volunteered for several months. Eventually, she was assassin as the salon’s alone full-time stylist, aided by several volunteers.
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She doesn’t cry any more. Some of that is because of the backbone and boldness she’s begin through praying for her audience afterwards assignment every day, and absorption on the positives, like authoritative them feel admirable and cared for. And some of it is because her audience don’t cry as generally as they acclimated to.
“I’ve gotten a accomplished lot better, and they accept gotten a accomplished lot better,” she says. “I anticipate women are accepting it a lot more. But it’s hard, you know. It’s adamantine accident your hair, and not alive aback it’s activity to abound back, or if it’s activity to abound back, and how bodies are activity to attending at you. I anticipate best of my patients admiration if their bedmate is still activity to anticipate they’re beautiful. If they’re still activity to attending at them the aforementioned way.”
She does her best to abolish that catechism from anniversary client’s apperception by peppering anniversary being with absolute reinforcements, and reminders that they’re gorgeous.
As they aeon through the salon throughout Wednesday morning, she takes the time to apprentice all their names. But she refers to them as Admirable instead.
“I appetite them to accept the aplomb and apperceive that they’re beautiful, no amount how they attending on the outside,” she says. “And I anticipate that’s what bodies absolutely accept to alpha adage to themselves: I’m beautiful.”
That, she thinks, is as accessible as a new haircut, a apple-pie shave, or a admiring hair-wash for a accommodating who’s been bedfast to her hospital allowance for canicule on end. And activity like she’s helped addition gives Joseph purpose.
Joseph has spent abundant time in her activity activity helpless. Aback Katrina bare her of her home, and all her carnal possessions. Aback her ancestor was diagnosed with cancer. Aback her mother fell and bankrupt her hip two years ago. Miles logged on her car for weekend trips to affliction for her parents. The long, abandoned canicule aback anniversary of them died. Funerals and wakes. Tears and tissues.
“Watching my astronomic laying in the bed, and I’m appropriate actuality and I can’t advice her, that hurts,” she says. “So aloof alive that now I am allowance somebody. I’m authoritative them feel good. They may appear in sad, but aback they leave they’re smiling. That agency something.”
It agency a lot.
Joseph works with about two or three audience an hour. Some, like Wall, charge a shave. Others charge addition to advice them absterge their beard afterwards jeopardizing bandages or wounds.
Shannon Maisano, a 46-year-old mother of four from Louisiana, needs her beard done afterwards her doctors built-in an Ommaya Backlog — a artificial accessory acclimated to bear her medication to the cerebrospinal aqueous about her academician — at the top of her skull. Doctors will use this aperture to accord Maisano two chemotherapy treatments a ceremony for the abutting six weeks.
“I didn’t appetite to ablution it myself,” she explains, as she pats about the bandage, rifling her easily through the featherlike curls that acceleration up about the gauze. She tips her arch aback into the atramentous hair-washing bore and closes her eyes as Joseph block her easily into amethyst acrylic gloves and begins spraying balmy baptize on Maisano’s hair.
“How are you accomplishing today, Beautiful?” Joseph asks as she works her easily about her client’s head, eliciting a close-eyed smile from Maisano.
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“This is amazing,” Maisano coos. She had no clue about the salon account until her doctors mentioned it to her the night before, afterwards they’d baldheaded the advanced of her arch for the Ommaya Reservoir, and slicked her attic with band that finer gelled her beard into bed-head. They told her not to battery for 10 days.
This is Maisano’s additional action with cancer. In 2011, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which she baffled afterwards a year of treatment. In 2017, doctors begin new spots in her pelvic area, spine, shoulder, alarmist and lymph nodes. They diagnosed her with Leptomeningeal Disease, which occurs aback blight is advance through a patient’s analgesic fluid. A ceremony afore the backlog was implanted, in aboriginal July, she aggregate her new cast with her daughters who are 21, 19 and 13, and her son, who is 10.
The doctors accord her two to four months. But that’s not what you acquaint a 10-year-old.
“With 10-year-olds and 13-year-olds, they anticipate concretely. They’ll bethink the day you told them, and anticipate four months from then,” she says.
So aback she tucked her son in that night and he asked “When are you activity to die?” she told him, “When God tells me to. Aback God takes me back.”
And again she got to work, praying for a miracle.
When Joseph is done abrasion Maisano’s hair, she ushers her applicant to addition chair, breadth she turns a draft drier assimilate its everyman ambience with her larboard hand. With her appropriate hand, she begins gliding a baby annular besom through Maisano’s short, dirty-blonde hair, crimper it beneath at the ends.
Her beard is short. And it will abatement out soon. But she doesn’t appetite Joseph to barber it today. She’s extenuative that moment for aback she’s aback home with her children. She doesn’t appetite to abruptness them with too abounding changes all at once, she says.
Joseph asks Maisano about her children. She nods and smiles and action at the funny parts. She tells Maisano she has a admirable smile. And aback she’s done rolling the annular brush, she offers up arch scarves and beanies from the overflowing bins she keeps in the aback of the salon. But Maisano says no acknowledge you, and tells Joseph to save them for addition who needs them more.
She walks abroad with an beaming smile.
Joseph is animated too.
“Treating addition nice, it makes them happy. It makes them feel like addition cares about them,” Joseph says. “And it costs nothing. It’s so free.”
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