Dolled Up

Heather’s Skills Helps Restore Confidence in 9/11 Cancer Survivor

Dane Smith is a happy and confident Education Manager for a large international company, who always took pride in his appearance.

And thanks to Heather at Dolled Up, he still is today.

To Dane, Heather is more than “just a great hair stylist”. For Dane, Heather was a miracle cure that no health provider could offer him.

It’s not just some marketing BS; it’s a true story, and we’re sharing it with you today.

And it’s no ordinary story about how one man survived cancer, or how a hair stylist did a great job.

It’s so much more.

The crazy story of Heather and Dane – a hair stylist changing the life of one of her guests at her salon – begins with the horrendous 9/11 attacks in New York in 2001.

Dane lived just four blocks north of the Twin Towers.

So many lives were tragically lost, and so many lives were affected that day.

“I woke up to hearing what I thought was thunder. My mother called me and said, ‘Grab your wallet and your phone and get out!’

“Fortunately, I didn’t get hit by anything when the towers fell, but I wasn’t able to run fast enough,” said Dane. When the buildings came down, like many others seen in the iconic images of the day, he too was covered in dust, ash and debris.

Dane didn’t really pay attention to the subsequent cleanup operations around the collapse of the Twin Towers.

“The barge that took away the scrap from the Towers was only one block from my apartment building, but I wasn’t concerned,” explained Dane. “I was busy trying to live my life, and I couldn’t afford to just rent a new home somewhere else.

View From Dane's Apartment. Credit: Dane Smith
View From Dane’s Apartment. Credit: Dane Smith

“What I wasn’t thinking about was that every day, for a year and a half, until I moved, I was inhaling all of the smoke, all of the soot, all of the fumes. Everything. For a year and a half.”

Of course, the world has since learned just how noxious the smoke and debris actually was. It’s too sickening to spell out for you, if you don’t already know.

Other events in Dane’s life took their toll, and eventually he decided to make a fresh start by moving to Raleigh, NC, where his family lived.

After the move, he found out the true impact on himself from that day of infamy. He was diagnosed with cancer, as a direct result of all the toxicity in the New York air from the 9/11 attacks.

He thought it was taken care of with drastic surgery, but when he developed cancer for a second time – he experienced something that he was totally unprepared for.

Drastic Cancer Surgery For Dane: Credit: Dane Smith
Drastic Cancer Surgery For Dane: Credit: Dane Smith

“Although I had a cancer that, for many, is pretty normal, the doctors told me that the way mine metastasized was something that they hadn’t really seen very often, at all, and it was pretty rare. Because of that, I flew to see a number of different specialists.”

The chemotherapy, Dane could handle. Even the loss of his hair through three rounds of chemotherapy was something he expected. What he struggled to come to terms with was what happened when his hair grew back.

Instead of his head of “long, straight brown hair” which he lost in the cancer treatment, his hair grew back but this time it was white and curly.

After 38 years, Dane had to find a way to deal with a completely different look that he didn’t like and dented his confidence.

Gene Wilder. Credit: Library of Congress/Wikipedia
Gene Wilder. Credit: Library of Congress/Wikipedia

“I looked like Gene Wilder, or a crazy scientist,” said Dane. “I looked completely different. My hair was white, frail, thin, and I was really insecure about it, so I really didn’t take any photos at that time.”

For a guy who is always immaculately dressed and whose profession requires him to deliver presentations and training sessions to colleagues and other professionals, it was a real sucker-punch for him.

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Heather at Dolled Up, No Ordinary Stylist

Dane was resigned to having a new and different look, but he certainly wasn’t happy about it.

After months of having no hair because of the chemotherapy, when his white curly hair started to grow long enough to need cutting, he went to see Heather at Dolled Up.

He was recommended to go and see Heather by a friend. Fresh start, fresh stylist.

“From the start, Heather was different from other hair stylists I had been too,” explained Dane. “Most places, at least for a man, they expect you to come in and say, ‘Here’s the way I do my hair. Here’s how I want it.’ And they just go from there.

“I was starting with a fresh canvas. I had no idea how it was supposed to be styled. It’s the elephant in the room that you sort of want to talk about and say, ‘Look, my hair didn’t always look like this. This is the result of cancer and chemotherapy.’

Dane in the Stylist's Chair
Dane in the Stylist’s Chair

“Heather immediately put me at ease, and then we went through the different options I could choose from, which was very different than other places I had been. We settled on an option and, as we got started, Heather helped me loosen up and put me at ease with the conversation.

“Heather was genuinely interested, asking me questions and actually listening to my answers, then asking me something else, based on my answer.

“That’s so unlike most other places where they ask generic, standard questions that you can tell, they really don’t care about the answers to. You know they’ve asked everybody else that day, the exact same set of questions.

“It really made the experience different than any other experience at a hair stylist, because it felt like I was just talking to a friend.”

“I walked out feeling terrific. I had confidence, I walked tall.

Million Dollar Confidence

“Heather made me feel like a million dollars, and she immediately had a new customer for life.”

Dane and Heather. Credit: Billy Fansler
Dane and Heather. Credit: Billy Fansler

“It’s pretty rare that you find somebody like Heather, who takes the time to really get to know you. One of the running jokes that we have every time I come into her studio – because I travelled so much – was the different kinds of candy bars we had tried.

“It’s the little things like that which make it personal. As silly as it may sound with candy bars, it’s that she remembers things about you, things about your life – and knows to ask.”

And today, Heather’s relationship with Dane is more than just one of a hair stylist and one of her paying guests – Heather and her fiancé, Billy, have become good friends with Dane and his wife, El.

“Dane is one of the most interesting people I know,” said Heather. “I was glad to help play a small part in his recovery. He always stays positive and he and El are fun to hang out with. And really, that’s what it’s like when I cut Dane’s hair. We hang out, he grabs a beer, we talk, we laugh – and he gets his hair cut.”

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About The Author


Simon Aronowitz is the co-founder of Get Super Cereal, based in Durham, NC.

Together with Billy Fansler, the other co-founder (and Heather’s fiancé), they help businesses like Dolled Up to share their clients’ stories and testimonials in a way that engages their audience.

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