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whiteflowerslakeKelly owns and operates the Hairitage Hair Salon in my hometown of Fulton, NY. I asked to interview her for Invisible Illness Awareness Week for two reasons: she suffered from an Invisible Illness (Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) and two of her clients that she knows of have MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity).

Here are Kelly’s words as told to me:

wildflowersgranbytrailI was a hair stylist for twelve years before I became sick. It took a year before I was diagnosed. I went though all sorts of tests for a skin disorder and later a cough. The diagnosis of cancer was scary. It came during the time I was pregnant with my second child. My oncologist was finally able to tell me that the skin disorder is a side of effect of Hodgkins. My dermatologist needed to be educated about this.

After I became sick, I knew I had to change the chemicals I was using in my salon. I didn’t know how bad some of the chemicals were until I saw a product line that was producing safer products so that hair stylists wouldn’t be exposed to such high concentrations of chemicals like ammonia. Perms still have a lot of ammonia but color treatments can now be applied successfully with products containing less than 1% ammonia.

wildflowerslakeI so believed in the need for safer products and this company, that I became a salesperson for them. I actually met and told my story to the founder of the company. I was giving my presentation on one of the smaller stages at the trade show — when people came up saying they wanted to meet me. Apparently, the founder was telling everyone my story of having cancer and choosing less toxic products for myself and my clients’ health.

If I knew as a teenager what I know now about the harmful chemicals in this industry — I probably wouldn’t have become a hair stylist. LOL But of course, as teenagers we believe we are indestructible. After 35 years in the business, I still give perms because those clients have been with me since the beginning. I always chose the safest product I can find and keep the shop well ventilated. If a client with sensitivities makes an appointment, I make sure to not schedule them on a day when I’ve given a perm or color.

Image26wildflowersI thought companies were taking care of the hair stylists but many weren’t. Now, I make the safest choices in products that I can. I have educated others about the need for safer products and I would be glad to answer any questions people have.



Image29wildflowersI wanted to include photos of Kelly and her shop but her response was, “I’m not doing this for the business.” However, I pointed out to her that she doesn’t realize how unique she is in the business world. In fact, she is operates the only business that I know of who goes to such lengths to accommodate those with MCS in my hometown. Prior to becoming fully disabled, Kelly arranged my appointments for the least chance of exposure including if someone would want their hair sprayed the appointment before me. Now that I am disabled — she cuts my hair on her deck. This was a learning curve for both of us. I washed my hair (in organic shampoo that she luckily sells) and showed up with wet hair. The first hair cut — she needed to re-wet my hair and as she sprayed my hair and my body tensed — she realized she should have used plain water. The second cut — I did better but still got a headache. She — not me — decided although she used a clean cape — it might have retained chemicals from previous uses. She then asked what laundry soap was safe for me and switched to that. She washed a cape in my safe soap and stored it separately for only my use.

flowersI’m sorry that Kelly had to go through the emotional and physical pain of the Invisible Illness cancer but I am blessed that she learned so much from that experience. Virtually nothing feels more uplifting than a great hair cut EXCEPT being in the presence of someone who makes you feel FULLY VISIBLE. Kelly proved that it is totally possible to have a thriving business that accommodates those with chemical sensitivities.

Much Love to Kelly and all those who make the changes necessary for me and others to have a “normal” life,