Kar draws a henna crown on Eudora Gibbs-Thomas, 77, on
Jan. 23, 2015 at an oncology practice in Orlando, Fla.
Female cancer survivors say that losing hair is one of
the most significant changes to their bodies, and
intricate henna designs are one way they are expressing
themselves and coping with hair loss.
ó Henna artist Jeena Kar began drawing on Eudora
Gibbs-Thomasí bald head, swiftly gliding a small pink cone
filled with natural henna paste to create half-circles, dots,
lines and zigzags.
long, an intricate design began to take shape: a beautiful
headdress, or a crown of sorts.
love it," said Gibbs-Thomas, 77, who finished her second
round of chemotherapy recently. "Itís so pretty. It
makes me feel very good."
less conventional than scarves, hats or sparkly stick-on
decals, henna crowns are another way for survivors to express
themselves and cope with hair loss.
get a lot of women that the first thing they ask is, ĎAm I
going to lose my hair?í" said Dr. Sarah Katta, an
oncologist at Southwest Cancer Center in Orlando, where
Gibbs-Thomas met with Kar to get a henna crown. "Itís
devastating for a woman because thatís what we associate
are a handful of henna artists across the nation who draw
"henna crowns." A Canadian nonprofit called Henna
Heals connects henna artists with people who have lost their
hair. But the service is not common among providers in Florida
because artists have to touch the patients, and that could
bring up liability issues. Also, some are concerned about the
safety of the product.
wouldnít recommend it to my patients if I werenít
comfortable with it and didnít think it was safe," said
henna ó not to be confused with the synthetic black henna
ó is a plant that grows in tropical regions of the world.
The dried, crushed leaves are made into a paste and have been
used since ancient times to dye hair, fabrics and skin. The
designs can last as long as two or three weeks on the skin,
depending on their exposure to the elements.
"itís done in celebrations usually," said Kar as
she drew Gibbs-Thomasí crown. "Itís done on pregnant
women and children and for women."
began drawing henna designs at a young age. Itís been a
creative outlet for her. And "drawing the patterns is a
meditative," said Kar, who is now a pre-med senior at the
University of Florida, majoring in religion.
began working with cancer survivors only recently after a
class assignment required her to combine her art with an
aspect of health care.
opened a whole new world for her.
makes me feel my art matters and means something. I think it
does something for the (survivorsí) self-esteem," said
Kar. "Itís also having someone to spend time with you.
Itís up close and personal. And it does have that touching
aspect. I think just being present with someone makes a really
Kar a while to find a provider open to her idea. Most cited
liability and safety issues. But then she reached out to Katta,
a family friend, who like Kar is familiar with henna through
her Indian heritage. Kar has been to her practice twice to
draw henna crowns or designs on patientsí hands for free.
hope in the future more physicians will be open to this,
because it provides a way for patients to express themselves,
as well as something that they could feel good about,"
liked her crown enough to come back a second time.
my way here today, I said to my husband, ĎBefore I get
there, can you tell me if you liked it the first time? How did
it look?í" she said. "And he said, ĎIt looked
very good. I liked it. It was very nice.í And I said ĎOK.
Thatís one plus, so Iím going again.í"