When her mentor Paul Mitchell died of pancreatic cancer in 1989, Jeanne Braa Foster kept busy. She had performed on platform alongside him for years and, beloved and respected professionally, later became artistic director of John Paul Mitchell Systems.
“My first cancer experience was with Paul, and it was a total heartache,” Jeanne remembers. “It was hard for me to continue to do shows while Paul was in the hospital, and I would work with any partner who was around. Then I met Robert Cromeans, who had a natural way about him that brought me joy. After Paul’s death I worked with Robert for about 10 years, and I put cancer out of my mind.”
When she turned 50 and determined that she had reached all of her goals, Jeanne changed direction and left the industry. “It was a Christian awakening that happened to me,” she explains. She became friends with, and then married, retired surgeon Dean Foster and joined him in the missionary work he was doing. After keeping cancer off her radar for a long time, Jeanne Braa Foster met up with the disease again when, three years into her marriage, her husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“All of my cancer memories came back,” she says. “Dean and I did everything naturopathically to fight it. We believed you should fight cancer on every battlefield—medically as well as by living a good clean life with love and prayer.” Dean responded to treatment and today is NED (No Evidence of Disease).
This time, Jeanne did not put cancer out of her mind. Dean began counseling other prostate patients, and then a visit to the Paul Mitchell School triggered an idea that would involve a different area of cancer for the couple. They saw a need in the industry for skin cancer awareness. Their longtime friend Winn Claybaugh, Paul Mitchell’s director of education, helped the Fosters to get something started. Within six months, the nonprofit organization Eyes on Cancer was up and running to teach cosmetologists how to spot skin cancer on themselves and on clients. Identifying skin cancer in an early stage dramatically improves the prognosis. The online course is free; read more about Eyes on Cancer in the Healthy Hairdresser section of the May issue of MODERN SALON.
“Being able to bring something back to the industry is really a treasure,” Jeanne says. “After 12 years of ‘retirement,’ this is giving me special joy and purpose. Our course focuses on visual awareness, because hairdressers learn visually.” The program is reaching 150 U.S. cosmetology schools, and hairdressers and estheticians are invited to take the class and become an Eyes on Cancer ambassador to teach others.
Social media is another way the Fosters hope to spread the word that “if you see something, say something.” Because of social media, the beauty community today is more cohesive than it was in her heyday, Jeanne says. “Beauty professionals are so connected and so aware,” she notes, “but the heart hasn’t changed—loving what you do; wanting to do beautiful, creative work; and wanting to serve people.”
For their own health regimens, moderation is the rule. “Cancer motivates you to fight on every level,” Jeanne says. “We detoxed our bodies and our environment, and at one point we went raw vegan with lots of juices and garlic. It’s not an easy routine. Now we use moderation and generally eat a Mediterranean diet. We love food and always want to loose 10 or 15 pounds!”
The two stay active by lifting weights, stretching, walking, biking and swimming. Dean also goes for runs and surfs. “As I have matured, I’ve seen that beauty is based on health,” says Jeanne Braa Foster. “Energy, joy and love for life make up true beauty.”
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