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Like Samson in reverse, cancer patient empowered by shearing locks before chemo

LARGO — On the day of her party, she took extra time doing her hair. She blew it all the way dry, combing it between her fingers, adding a double shot of spiking gel.

Slowly, she twisted the scarlet and bleached-blond streaks into thin peaks, 3 inches tall, fanning above her forehead. She calls the look "Woody Woodpecker."

Her signature.

Sometimes, when she's feeling wild, she adds orange streaks. But not now.

Bonnie Dhonau, 50, has been going through a lot. She's trying to stay sunny for her friends and only son, who is 21.

That's why she planned a party: "The Hair-Raising Event." She needed something to look forward to, something positive and empowering and indulgent.

On Friday, after working a half-day at her job at Indian Shores Town Hall, Dhonau met her friends at the spa.

She had never had a facial.

Hadn't had a pedicure in years.

She hadn't gotten her hair cut in six weeks, not since she got the news.

• • •

The salon smelled like licorice and lotion. Dhonau walked in with her sister, her cousin, five of her friends. And her son, Costa, the only guy.

"Welcome, I'm Lu," purred the owner, hugging Dhonau. "I'm so glad you chose us to do this for you."

When Dhonau told her friends she wanted to have a spa day, they suggested Avantaggio Salon on Clearwater-Largo Road. When her friends told Lucrezia Marchiafava about Dhonau's story, the owner offered all the services for free. "Would you all like cookies?" she asked. "Something to drink?"

Dhonau tried a sip of licorice tea, but hardly tasted it.

"I thought we would start with the hair," said the owner, draping a black cape around Dhonau's shoulders. "Then we can move on to the pedicure and facial."

An assistant washed Dhonau's hair, then sat her in front of a wide mirror. Dhonau stared at her reflection. "Are we ready?" asked the owner.

"No, wait," Dhonau said softly. "Can you turn this chair around? I wanted to have the guts to watch. But I can't."

Instead of facing herself, Dhonau spun to see her friends, all with cellphones poised to take pictures. One said, "You're so brave!" Another cried, "We're so proud of you!"

The salon owner started snipping, all those scarlet peaks sliding off her shears. When only Dhonau's bangs remained, Lucrezia's husband, Damiano, plugged in a razor. Dhonau winced at the whir. "Remember," he said, "you chose to do this."

Dhonau nodded, took a deep breath. Nothing about this was easy. Her hair had always been her trademark, even more as she aged. It said, "I'm still fun and feisty."

"Okay," she finally whispered. She felt the blade kiss the back of her neck, felt cold air against the swath of naked scalp, felt tears sticky on her cheeks.

Still, she knew she was doing the right thing. She wanted to take her own hair before the breast cancer did. "I thought it would be easier if I did it all at once," she said. "On my terms."

On Thursday, she starts chemo.

The clipper kept buzzing. Costa walked up to hold her shaking hand — and didn't let go even after all her hair was gone. With her other hand, Dhonau reached up to feel the soft stubble. "So," she said, without turning around. "What do you think?"

Costa, who has his mom's thick, naturally dark hair, stepped back. "The most beautiful head I ever saw."

Lane DeGregory can be reached at degregory@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8825.

Like Samson in reverse, cancer patient empowered by shearing locks before chemo 04/15/13 [Last modified: Monday, April 15, 2013 10:15pm]
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