WHEN one of her young hairdressing clients was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, Moray stylist Gillian Pirie prepared to take on her toughest cut yet.
In 15 years of salon work, Gillian was used to making women look their best, but in Kirstie Paterson’s case she faced the job of preparing a young Elgin woman for the loss of her beautiful, flowing red locks once her chemotherapy began.
Having groomed Kirstie’s hair since she was still at primary school, taking the clippers to them proved to be a heart-wrenching experience for Gillian.
Happily, Kirstie has since won her battle to beat cancer after having one of her kidneys removed, and her story inspired Gillian to try and do something special for a charity which helped her client on the road to recovery.
So she signed up to run the 64-mile route along the Speyside Way to raise funds for Friends of ANCHOR, a charity linked to an Aberdeen medical unit which cared for Kirstie during her cancer treatment.
“I think what Gillian’s doing is a lot harder than chemotherapy,” said Kirstie, now 21. “I would never have been able to do what she is doing.
“She asked me what charity I would like the money to go towards, and I thought of the ANCHOR unit. I remember the first day I attended there and went up to the ward and saw how dilapidated it looked. I just cried because it looked depressing.
“But that became irrelevant after I began my treatment with the care I got there and how friendly the staff were, I just loved it there. It’s one that people in Moray will be able to relate to because it deals with patients from this area, and it’s a good cause worth supporting.”
Now Gillian, a stylist at the James Cameron Hairdressing salon in Bishopmill, is preparing for her big challenge starting on May 18. It begins on the hilly terrain of the Speyside Way around Aviemore and finishes in Buckie three days later.
“It’s a big challenge,” she said, “but it’s only three days. “Kirstie went through seven months and that’s a massive thing, which has been in the back of my mind all the way through. But I never once heard her moan about her chemotherapy. She’s always been upbeat, constantly. She was just looking to get it done, out of the way and I really admired her attitude and how she did it all without ever complaining.”
Kirstie was 20 when she was diagnosed with primitive kidney cancer in June, 2010, and the following month she had an operation to remove a kidney.
Between August and February she underwent chemotherapy treatment, at the start of which she confided in Gillian about what she could do with her hair.
“We realised she was probably going to lose it, so we had to gear ourselves up for that,” Gillian said. “It was down to the bottom of her back, beautiful red hair, and the first thing we did was cut it quite short. At the time she told me how she really hoped it wouldn’t fall out.
“But about two weeks later she phoned and said it had started to come out and she wanted it off.
“When we went round with the clippers and shaved her head, it felt totally against everything I knew as a hairdresser.
“After going through the hardship of removing the cancer, it was almost criminal in a way that it takes away your hair. That was the hardest part for me. Normally as a hairdresser you can fix something but you couldn’t this time. It was so horrible.
“Once we clippered it all off, she turned round and told me that was her biggest fear but she had done it now. I was standing behind her and didn’t want to cry in front of her or be emotional, when really it should have been Kirstie who was emotional about it. But she just said ‘that’s it, it’s over’”
It was then that the pair started talking about a charity challenge which could help other cancer patients in the area – and Friends of ANCHOR sprang to mind.
“The charity had sent out information about exactly what they do and where the money goes, which I quite liked. Sometimes with the bigger charities you wonder if the money just goes into a big machine.
“The ANCHOR unit do nice things like buying beanbag chairs, or iPods for patients, and I thought that was more personal. Real things that people with cancer could do with.”
Kirstie knew Gillian had taken on charity ventures before, and with Gillian regularly enjoying trips along the Speyside Way, the idea of running it became more appealing to her.
The stylist had run a 10k for her grandfather in aid of Chest, Heart and Stroke, and more recently did a half marathon to raise money towards an orangutan sanctuary in Borneo, where she took part in a voluntary conservation programme in the country.
The ANCHOR Unit not only cares for patients of cancer, but also leukaemia and benign blood disorders such as haemophilia.
Gillian has already raised several hundred pounds towards the cause, and hopes she can take in even more donations between now and May 18 when she begins her challenge, just two days after her 34th birthday.
Day one will mean a lot of walking due to the undulating terrain around Strathspey, while there will be more running on the second day. Finally, she hopes to have around 26 miles left to tackle on the final day, when she will effectively run a marathon to complete the gruelling task.
Sponsor forms are available at James Cameron Hairdressing, or you can donate online by visiting the Friends of Anchor website and logging on to the fundraising page, where Gillian is listed.