New charity will benefit from loss of hair

CLOSE TO HOME: Sarah McDonald, of Renaissance Hair, cuts the hair of Stoke Montessori teacher Suzette D'Rosairo.
CLOSE TO HOME: Sarah McDonald, of Renaissance Hair, cuts the hair of Stoke Montessori teacher Suzette D'Rosairo.

A crowd of bemused preschoolers watched as their teacher Suzette D'Rosairo had her long black hair shorn off in the name of charity.

"Do you still know who I am?" she asked them.

"Yes," they answered.

"The same, just with less hair," she confirmed.

Ms D'Rosairo is the co-director of Stoke Montessori preschool. Her hair will be now made into a wig for a cancer patient, while the fundraising she did in connection with the public head shave has amounted to $1738.

The money will go to a new national charity called "Whole Lotta Life", set up by Nelson parent and cancer survivor Kristin Paterson this year. Ms D'Rosario said she first began to understand the challenges involved with having cancer when her sister discovered a lump in her breast six months ago.

From Sri Lanka, Ms D'Rosario has been living in New Zealand for more than four years, but her family remain in her homeland. She said the first month following her sister's discovery was a wrench.

"For the first time in my life, I realised how close to home the cruel and vile arm of cancer had reached."

She said she empathised with the feelings of helplessness, loneliness and vulnerability felt by cancer patients as she had experienced similar emotions while settling down in a new country.

Ms Paterson's youngest daughter Chloe, 4, attends Stoke Montessori preschool with Ms D'Rosario. Diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma when she was 26, Ms Paterson founded Whole Lotta Life a year ago to tackle the gap between cancer support agencies for children and older adults.

It focuses on supporting young adults aged 20 to 45, and achieved certification last month. Ms Paterson said more than 2000 young adults were diagnosed with cancer each year, but said the more established charities did not sufficiently target concerns such as employment and fertility, which were important to cancer patients in her age bracket.

She said being a younger patient, receiving cancer treatment was "incredibly isolating".

"Everybody looks at you when you walk in [to the treatment room], like, 'Oh that poor girl'."

Ms Paterson said she wanted Whole Lotta Life to help establish a community for younger cancer patients, and to support them so that they could "focus on living" rather than scrounging for money and information.

She has left her job at the Nelson Provincial Museum to concentrate on growing the charity, saying it was currently funded through community projects but she was seeking major sponsorship.

Her plans for Whole Lotta Life included yoga classes, national meet-ups, retreats, an annual big event and more.

The Nelson Mail