Greeley cancer survivor’s head paints a statement
The Daily Tribune
GREELEY, Colorado – You’re going to stare at her.
You know it’s not proper, to stare, but you’ll do it anyway. And really, it’s OK.
Kay Anderson is used to it, and in fact, she encourages it. She gives hugs for it.
She’s beaten cancer for now. She is cancer-free, and her last chemo treatment was in February. Like women with breast cancer, she lost her hair when the treatments started, but Anderson was resolute – she wouldn’t allow it to get the best of her.
“I decided to embrace baldness, to have fun with it,” Anderson will tell you. “I decided to get on with fighting for my life.”
So, she talked to her artistic daughter, Tiffany Koehn, and got her to learn how to do face painting. From there, it went to Anderson’s head.
Now, when you see her around town, you’ll notice the flowers, or the butterflies, or a pattern that matches the blouse she is wearing. It usually takes 30 minutes to an hour to paint Anderson’s head; the paint lasts for two or three days until it fades and Anderson washes it off.
But during those times, she makes a statement.
“I learned that with 60 percent of the women who have chemo, the worst part is losing their hair,” Anderson said. “I didn’t want to wear a wig or a hat. I was hoping I could find something empowering to women.”
Koehn has now painted heads, arms and the bellies of pregnant women. She uses theater makeup paint and colors as bright as possible. She recently painted a friend’s pregnant belly to look like a jack-o’-lantern.
“We usually charge $5 each,” Tiffany said. “But that money all goes to fighting breast cancer.”
Anderson is 64 and has been married to Ernie Anderson for 45 years. They’ve lived in Lamar, Fort Morgan, and for 20 years in Seattle, Wash. After Ernie retired, they moved to Greeley in 2006 to be closer to their children and grandchildren.
All three – Tiffany, Kay and Ernie – are artists. While Tiffany specializes in glass, both blown-glass and jewelry, Kay is a concrete artist, and Ernie works in metal.
It you pass their home on Panorama Drive, you’ll some of Ernie’s metal art out front, along with Kay’s concrete columns and a concrete palm tree.
“All of us suddenly got into art about the same time,” Ernie said. “About eight years ago in Seattle. We each just found what we wanted to do.”
So, in addition to the family art, Kay meets strangers every day because of her painted head.
“We follow themes sometimes,” Kay said. “Tiffany has painted the Nutcracker Suite on my head for Christmas, we’ve had a Halloween theme and even fireworks on the Fourth of July.”
Painted on her head every time is at least one heart. That’s important to both Tiffany, the artist, and to Kay, the “canvas.”
Since her head-painting began, the mother and daughter have attended numerous cancer events, where Kay talks about empowerment, and Tiffany paints heads. Kay also volunteers at the oncology desk at North Colorado Medical Center.
Kay has also started a website, Beautifully Bald, to discuss cancer and show off her daughter’s head paintings.
Although she’s cancer-free now, Kay continues to shave her head because the baldness makes a statement about cancer.
“It’s our ‘neener-neener-neener’ to breast cancer,” Kay said and laughed.
And, if you see her out there, at stores, restaurants, coffee shops, you should stop and talk. Kay wants that.
And watch out. If you stare, she just might come over and give you a hug.