Janet Sheppard Kelleher is a mother, author and among many other impressive things, a survivor. After being in remission for 14 years, she recently learned that her breast cancer is back -- but she's not one to take it lying down.
In preparation for chemo and a double mastectomy, she called up her daughter, Sarah Kelleher, and asked for help with a hot pink mohawk before losing her hair. Sarah not only obliged but shared images of the finished 'do on Reddit. The inspiring photo has already received more than three million hits since being posted on Monday.
MTV News caught up with Sarah to talk about her mother and the overwhelming support they've received since posting a picture of what's being affectionately referred to as Janet's "chemohawk."
MTV: How did the idea of the pink mohawk come up? Was it your Mom's idea or did it take some convincing?
Sarah Kelleher: The mohawk was mom's idea, no convincing needed. She called me one morning and asked me to come over and she had the hair dye and clippers ready to go. I never cut hair before this. Mom has always had a bit of a funky side. The first time she had chemo in 2001, she had her head covered in tiny braids and beads. I cut the braids out before her hair started to fall out, and Mom packaged them and gave them out to her friends as keepsakes. With her hair cut very short, she looked like Tom Hanks. I called her Mom Hanks.
MTV: So your mom had a really good attitude about losing her hair the first time she went through treatment?
Kelleher: Yes. Lots of people online are recommending that Mom wear a cold cap to try and preserve her hair during chemo, but Mom said that losing the hair is one of the "fun parts" of cancer. She liked to pull her wig off and freak people out last time she went through it.
MTV: Has she always been so adventurous?
Kelleher: Mom has always been adventurous. She has taken me zip lining, hot air ballooning, scuba diving. A week after they found this last cancer, Mom and I took a trip to Hilton Head and went parasailing. She took my sister and I to Mexico when we were kids, and she climbed to the top of Chichen Itza.
MTV: That's great. What has the reaction been since you posted pictures of your mom's hairstyle? Has anything surprised you?
Kelleher: The reactions since I posted the picture have been overwhelmingly positive. Mom said that she and my dad "mixed a scoop of real coffee in with the decaf" and stayed up into the wee hours of the morning reading all the comments on Reddit and Imgur. Dad said it was like watching election results come in. Besides the comments, I have gotten so many encouraging private messages. Redditors have offered to send my mom care packages, sent stories about times their loved ones went through cancer. One even illustrated Mom as a comic book superhero with a "F--K CANCER" pink t-shirt on.
MTV: You and your mom seem to be dealing with this in a really positive way. How have you been able to do this?
Kelleher: Mom's advice is look for ways to have fun in a bad situation. She is an author and published a memoir last October on that premise, "Big C, Little Ta Ta: Kicking Breast Cancer's Butt in 7 Humorous Stories." She volunteers at the [South Carolina] State Museum and Planetarium and travels as an inspirational speaker. She was a newspaper columnist for two years before she stopped to work on her books full-time. She is a Sweet Briar College alumna and has recently been involved in the fight to save the women's college from closing. It will be open in perpetuity now ... I am really proud of her, in case you couldn't tell, so thank you for this opportunity to gush.
MTV: She's an impressive woman! What has helped you personally cope? What advice would you offer someone in your position, going through this with a loved one?
Kelleher:: As far as coping goes, I think I cried more than anyone in the family at the outset, but being involved has helped me a lot. Going with mom to talk to her oncologist and hearing information straight from the doctor's mouth been so helpful. Cancer medicine has evolved so much since her last bout of cancer, and being involved in her treatment has been super reassuring for me.