Family gives Locks of Love

Program provides hairpieces for U.S. children

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Teri Vestal's mom didn't have time for her children to talk back or disobey. She was a single mother of four and she had to run a tight ship.

"We were never friends," Vestal said. "She was always my mother. That was her job."

Vestal's mother was strict and straightforward and that was where their relationship stood when her four children found out on a conference call that their mother had been diagnosed with leukemia.

"She went in for a routine checkup, but when her blood work came back, the doctors asked for more tests," Vestal said.

Vestal quit her job as a waitress at the Food Mill Restaurant in Hayden and went down to Denver to be by her mother's side during chemotherapy.

Her three children and her husband stayed behind in Hayden.

"I was her caretaker. I was there to be her defense when she was too weak to make decisions," Vestal said. Doctors inserted a shunt directly into her mother's heart, and they fed her chemotherapy for 14 days.

"She was very open and upbeat. She was a single mom of four kids. She was a tough cookie and knew how to put her good face up front," she said.

The mother and daughter would sit in the towers of the Denver hospital and look over the city. They would pick a building in the distance and plan a different route home every day with the goal of passing the building they chose.

"We tried to have fun," Vestal said. "Her immune system was down so we couldn't go to movies or to the store. It was extremely lonely for her, so we did what we could."

As the days passed, Vestal and her mother started getting to know each other. Vestal grew up Catholic but decided as an adult to join the Church of Christ.

"We would banter about the differences," Vestal said.

They didn't talk about the fact that her mother could die.

"When the doctors told her that she needed to write a last will and testament, she got very upset," Vestal said. "It really freaked her out." She drew up the will, and the two never talked about it again.

"The whole illness was a very personal process. She lost her hair and lost the ability to do certain things."

They got to know each other better each day, until it was more like "girls hanging out" than the strict separation between mother and daughter. "It's a learning process to become friends with your mom."

Things went well at first. Vestal's mother's leukemia went into remission and they started making plans for a bone marrow transplant in Seattle.

But when the leukemia returned, the end came quickly. They put off the trip to Seattle.

"She was very upset. She was crying and I should have known that she was worried," Vestal said. It wasn't long before Vestal had to put her mother back in the hospital. She died her eighth day there.

"It was Aug. 11, on my older sister's birthday," she said.

When her mother's birthday came around this year, the family wanted to do something in her honor: They donated their long hair to the Locks of Love program.

On May 27, Vestal and her 17-year-old daughter, Aubry, walked into 7th Street Hair and asked to have Teri's long hair cut off.

Teri had just cut Aubry's hair that weekend.

"She almost cried when I cut her hair," Teri Vestal said. "Her hair was down to her waist. She closed her eyes when I did it."

"When my mom was sick, she had two wigs, and I learned about the (Locks of Love program) back then," Vestal said.

Locks of Love is a nonprofit organization in Florida that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children across the U.S. who are suffering from long-term medical hair loss.

7th Street Hair stylist Cindy Wettstein refuses to cut off anyone's long hair unless they agree to donate it to the Locks of Love program.

Teri and Aubry Vestal donated their hair in Teri's mother's name.

"Doing something like this makes you feel good inside," Vestal said. "It was her birthday and we couldn't really give things to her. This was really all we could do."

-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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