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Johnson: Shear Support for Ailing Sister

July 14, 2010
Johnson: Shear support for ailing sister By Bill Johnson Denver Post Columnist Posted: 07/05/2010 01:00:00 AM MDT Would youno, could you — really do the same thing? Maybe it is all about unconditional love. Kristi VanHuysen is 30, the single mother of 4-year-old Brek. She first discovered the lump in December, but both terrified and without health insurance, she put off telling anyone for two months. "My mom and I told her, shouted at her, that she had to go in immediately," said her sister, Heidi Baskfield, 33. The lump was cancerous. In the other breast, doctors found highly aggressive precancerous cells. It meant a double mastectomy if she wanted to live. "She was devastated," her sister said. When her physician told her after surgery that she would have to undergo chemotherapy treatment, the woman crumbled. She didn't want to go through it, the loss of hair, the physical torment of it, Heidi said. The mere thought of it pushed her to the edge. "We were talking life and death here, and she didn't want to lose her hair? I told her I'd shave my hair off, too," she said. "Later, I walked out of her room and thought, 'Oh, God, what did I just do?' " She was getting married in less than a month, on April 9, to be exact. Kristi couldn't believe it. "You would really do that," she asked. Heidi nodded. "I think it got her in a completely different frame of mind," Heidi said. Kristi put off the chemotherapy until after the wedding. She was to be the maid of honor. She didn't want to go through it sick. Heidi and her husband, Tyler, put off the honeymoon. She had made a deal with her sister. "My mom tried desperately to talk me out of it," Heidi said, "but I thought it was really important to do it, way more important for Kristi to get better. This was the one thing I could do with her." Kristi agreed to shave her head as well. Get it over with, she thought. Heidi, director of public affairs at Children's Hospital, immediately thought fundraiser. It might help with the cost of her treatment. She started a word-of-mouth campaign. Friends began creating and handing out fliers. People began asking whether they could join in. A restaurant was booked. Seven adults and four children, including Kristi's nursing navigator at the hospital and her daughter, agreed to shave their heads, too. "We raised close to five grand that night," Heidi said. The Caritas Community Clinic at Exempla St. Joseph Hospital in Denver picked up the bulk of the cost for Kristi's care. The rest of the donations, Heidi said, will go toward Kristi's reconstruction procedure. Now three months later, her hair has grown back to about ear length. Tyler has been "totally and unwaveringly supportive," Heidi said. "He has always been the first to say I'm beautiful." She bought a wig before getting her head shaved. She looked absurd in it, she said, "like a giant drag queen." Tyler and her close friends told her going natural looked way better. That first day back at work, her co-workers, whom she had prepared for the change, "didn't flinch," she said. "Everyone was amazing." She would do it again, Heidi said without pausing. When Kristi calls, unable to bear her appearance, the two sisters commiserate, she said. Kristi's prognosis is very strong now, she said. "She in a better place than a lot of people," Heidi said. "And for that, I am so thankful."