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How my haircut empowered me to battle breast cancer - Jo Bayles

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“When life throws the impossible at you, move away from the people that drain you and towards those that radiate energy, happiness and life”.

Bubbling with positivity, these are the words that our Horsham host Jo Bayles lives by. Public speaker, fitness enthusiast and holistic wellness expert — these are just some of the wonderful things Jo does when she’s not making guests feel so loved and welcomed at our Horsham salon. Since battling, and beating, cancer four years ago, Jo has a special connection to The Chapel when it comes to her own hair — it’s the reason why she ended up working with us. So we sat down with Jo to learn a little more about her extraordinary and special story.

So Jo, tell us a little more about your story and your hair journey

“Well, my story really begins with Mark Palmer — director of the Horsham salon — who has been one of my dearest friends for as long as I can remember. Mark had been cutting my hair for years, into the same, long brown style with a deep set fringe. But I guess my relationship with Mark, and my hair, changed 4 years ago when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40. Within my family, we kept the news really private until we knew we were strong enough to deal with it. When you tell someone you have cancer, it can be really draining for everyone involved: from those family and friends who want to shower you with sympathy, to feeling helpless and out of control within yourself, and I didn’t want that. But the one thing I knew that I wanted to do was to cut my hair before the chemo took that control away from me — it was like saying ‘I’ve got one over on you.”

How did Mark help to transform your battle with cancer?

“I’ve always had long hair, and I’ve never been brave to do anything else with it - I knew immediately there was only one person to go to. Mark. When I told Palms (I call him Palms short for Palmer) I knew that he would not treat me differently, or with soppy sympathy, and I trusted him completely with my hair. Just after I’d had my mastectomy, I travelled up to the Islington salon for my hair transformation. Getting the train up there was the first thing I’d done on my own after being diagnosed, and for the first time I felt alone and so vulnerable. I didn’t feel like Jo anymore. As he lopped my locks off to the long-on-top undercut that I still have today, I immediately felt empowered. I didn’t just feel like Jo pre-diagnosis, I felt like Jo 20 years before. It changed my whole philosophy from the minute I left the salon. I felt like I had a style and I was ready to take on the journey ahead. It was a complete game changer, a huge turning point. On the train home I sat with my shoulders back, my head high and I felt like I was looking cancer in the eye and ready for the battle ahead! I can’t repeat the words that I imagined myself muttering to it!”

So how did you end up working at The Chapel?

“Well, before cancer, I was a PR Director for a major sportswear brand, but then after having my boys, and beating cancer, I knew I didn’t want to go back there. Exercise became a big part of my cancer recovery — there are strong studies that show the dramatic positive effect fitness can have to cancer treatment and survival but sadly patients are rarely made aware — so after I recovered I trained as a cancer-specific PT to coach others in the same position. After a while, however, I began to look for other ways to help people, and also to help myself.
When life throws the impossible at you, move away from the people that drain you and towards those that radiate energy, happiness and life. Mark is absolutely a radiator. He’s always been Mr Funny, and I’d been a guest at The Chapel many times. I always said that if I ever had the chance to work with him, I’d take it in an instant. So he kept me in the loop, and when the role for the host at Horsham came up, it all just fell into place.”

Is The Chapel’s philosophy on pausing something you resonate with?

“Absolutely. The Chapel’s philosophy on taking the time to PAUSE was a massive reason why I chose to work here. It’s my favourite part of my role as host. When it comes to giving ourselves time to rest, we’re rubbish at it and we always feel guilty about it. But I was told as a cancer patient, guilt is a wasted energy and if I wanted to survive, I had to learn to be selfish. It’s what they say on aeroplanes: If the plane goes down, you put the mask on yourself first. You’ve got to keep your cup topped up before you help other people. Everything I learned about being kind to yourself during my cancer journey — that’s what the host role is completely about. My favourite part as host is getting the connection with the guest. I’ve got that little window of time to have a chat that unlocks all sorts of experiences and influences. You’re giving people the chance to sit down without having anything to do — that dedicated time to self-indulge.”

How has your experience changed your overall attitude towards hair?

“Now, I completely understand the impact of a haircut on someone’s life. It's huge. It creates your whole style and your confidence, the minute you have your hair cut and coloured, you feel like you again. I’d turned into 'mum', not been working and I’d been handed a massive life challenge that I thought was about to take everything away from me. How wrong I was - all it takes is one good haircut and you feel like you again. I am in fact so grateful to cancer for guiding me on the path I now lead, for teaching me what life is really all about and most importantly how to live it. Sounds nuts but even if given the chance I wouldn't change my diagnosis. But I have been reduced to tears working in The Chapel, the transformation with some of the guests I’ve seen, the elation on their face and that realisation they have permission for self-indulgence is so emotional. To work with amazing stylists who have got the vision to do what they do.”

We’ve been on a journey with Jo — it was so wonderful to learn more about her story. Pop in to see her at our Horsham salon. To discover even more insights from our stylists, feel free to visit our blog or come in for one-to-one advice with an expert stylist in any of our salons.

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