How Chemotherapy Helped Inspire the Turning Heads Project
I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in January of 2010.
Just before my chemotherapy started, I walked into a clothing store and saw a nicely dressed woman wearing a baseball cap. It was obvious that she was bald under the cap and I immediately looked the other way. I was so uncomfortable. I didn’t want to stare or deal with the fact that very soon, that would be me and no one would want to look at me either. I realize now that not engaging this woman in some way was the worst thing I could do. She was not in hiding. She was out in the world, visible and coping with her situation. And she deserved to be acknowledged. I should have said hello or complimented her outfit, or at least smiled. But seeing a cancer patient who is clearly undergoing chemotherapy is uncomfortable because it makes you realize it could be you. I knew it was going to be me. I was not sure I could handle it.
All of that changed, however, when my pathologist sent me the most wonderful book, Turning Heads:Portraits of Grace, Inspiration, and Possibilities, 50 pages of photos of women of all ages undergoing cancer treatment, all bald, shot by some very famous photographers. That book had a HUGE impact on my perception of what losing my hair as a result of chemotherapy would be like.
The Turning Heads Project’s Beginnings
Debbie shared the Turning Heads book with me and I was in awe. I was inspired by the beauty of these women, inside and out, by their strength, their desire to persevere and their willingness to share their stories to help others. I immediately told Debbie, “We have to do a photo shoot of you”.
I had never seen her so beautiful as during that time. There were no bangs to hide her eyes and I saw how much they shined. When I looked at her I saw so much more than I had ever noticed before. That baldness was a badge of honor. She was the same and yet different. Stronger. Wiser. I knew we had to capture this fleeting moment when Debbie was without hair.
We picked a day and the night before I dragged out my camera equipment and transformed my living room into a make-shift studio. I made a fun, upbeat music mix to set the tone, gathered some props, and we did our own “Supermodel” photo shoot. This was a time to be remembered. A time that you’d never choose for yourself or wish on a friend, but a time that came with many blessings as well. It brought us closer in our friendship, it gave us the ability to see beyond the external stuff like hair and into what really holds value for us and for our lives.
The Turning Heads Project was born as a result. Looking at Debbie’s photos from the day we realized what a gift those memories were, for both of us, for her husband, for the many people who love her and supported her during her journey through cancer and chemotherapy. We knew we had to share that with others.
Changing Perceptions of Hair Loss as a Result of Chemotherapy
Our desire to share this experience with others inspired us to create The Turning Heads Project, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. By arranging photo shoots in our local community, capturing video of the shoots, and interviewing our “supermodels” who have shared their stories in the most poignant, straightforward way in order to help others who are walking the same path. Our long term goal is to help enhance the self-image of people going through treatment for cancer and hopefully change the preconceived notions and perceptions of not just those going though it. We can also help friends and family gain a better understanding of the process.