When Tara was first diagnosed with Stage III triple negative breast cancer, she was scared that she wouldn’t have the strength to get through treatment—the nausea of chemo, the pain of surgery, the loss of energy from radiation. But one of her biggest fears was of hair loss. Tara’s super curly, long brown hair felt like a big part of her personality and femininity, and she was afraid of looking sick and having people pity her.
Tara decided to cut off her hair before it fell out. After a straight-edge razor shave at an old school barbershop, Tara and several of her closest friends gathered at her house for a party with a fabulous henna artist, Darcy Vasudev. Tara told Darcy that she wanted a tree of life design. Darcy painted a gorgeous tree on Tara’s head, with roots curving down her neck and flowered branches covering her scalp. She also painted tattoos onto the hands and feet of Tara’s friends.
Everywhere she went, Tara got compliments and inquiries about her beautifully tattooed head. Most people assumed Tara was merely making a fashion statement. When the henna stain wore off, Tara would get a new design. Over the four months of treatment, Tara and Darcy collaborated on a variety of designs, including a peacock, lotus, Moroccan-style leaves and vines, another tree.
Occasionally, Tara wore a wig that was close to her old hairstyle. But usually, Tara preferred to go without it—it was more comfortable and somehow felt more authentic. While everyone has their own strategy for dealing with the side effects of treatment, for Tara, it felt important to not hide her diagnosis, to let people know that young people do get cancer. The henna tattooing helped Tara do that while feeling true to her own style and creative expression.
Tara passed away in 2011.