INDIANAPOLIS — Imagine for a minute what it would be like to wake up without your hair. It would be a hard realization for many of us. But for some tough kids at Riley Hospital for Children, it's a reality as they battle cancer.
A new program at Riley is not only helping kids cope with these changes, but it’s making them stronger for the fight of their lives.
The program "Bold, Bald, and Beautiful" gives kids with cancer a chance to do something crazy with their hair and an overall better experience adjusting to everyday life without it.
“My mom was telling me 'well, you don’t have your hair for so much longer, why don’t you do something fun with it?'” said Brynnlee Robinson.
She’s a patient at Riley battling leukemia.
“It was hard the day that they told us it really was cause you know I've never really thought oh you're going to have cancer you have some type of life disease that could possibly you know end your life,” said Robinson.
When she was sent to Riley for treatment, her family knew she would lose her hair.
“It kind of breaks you down because I've always loved my hair,’ said Robinson.
Two weeks ago, Robinson got her hair cut and colored by Riley’s own cosmetologist, supported by Riley's program Bold, Bald and Beautiful.
Hannah Ewert works on the oncology floor once a week, doing hair, makeup, nails and teaching kids how to care for their skin as their body changes. She said she tries to make the experience as fun as possible.
“We just we try to keep it as calm as it can. I just you know walk them through what I'm doing and you know I'd be there for them and then they always get something fun afterward. I had a little girl that she was very emotional, and I was able to give her a headband, and that’s all she wears now,” said Ewert.
The program was started because a young woman named Lauren McGlaughlin wanted kids going through the same thing she did to realize they are bold and beautiful even if they are bald.
“When I found I was going to lose, it was absolutely devastating,” said Lauren in a video she created in hopes of getting the program started.
McGlaughlin had Synovial Sarcoma, a rare cancer that attacks the body’s soft tissue. She found comfort in trying new hairstyles, accessories and doing her makeup.
Together with her care team, she created the program that brought a licensed cosmetologist onto the oncology floor.
Melissa Henson is a child life specialist at Riley, and she said when a child battling cancer loses their hair, that’s when reality sets in, so this program will be beneficial in that transition.
“You can hide your port or your central line and hide a lot of things or not tell people were coming to the hospital, but when you start to lose your hair, it's the first thing people notice, and so that's kind of the first reality of this is really what I'm going through and so having somebody help them through how to adapt to that or how to wear a wig so that if they want to choose to have here, they can,” said Henson.
I spoke to Lauren’s mom, Allyson, and she said her daughter learned the program was approved just before she died and if she was still here, she would be helping do hair, makeup, or whatever she could to make the kids at Riley feel beautiful.
“She would be up there every week doing stuff for these kids you know that's just who she was she just she just wanted to lavish people and have them we had some fun up there, and you know feel better about their identity, and so she would have just loved this,” said Allyson McGlaughlin.
Her mom tells me before Lauren lost her hair, she dyed it fire engine red, and she loved it.
“Changing your hairstyle allows you to become ok with changing your look and realizing that you're still the same person inside even though you’ve changed your hair,” said Lauren.
Robinson said she’s prepared for the changes to come.
“I think once my hair does go and it's gone, I think I'm might embrace it so, hey look this is me now but if you don't like it, I'm sorry,” said Robinson.
WRTV received these photos from Robinson, she’s now bald but as she said, she’s going to embrace it.
The program is supported by the Women of Riley, and WRTV just learned there is another grant being written so the program can continue for another year.