Bendigo music teacher who loses hair to cancer uses her new look as a henna canvas

“When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.”

That is the mantra Bendigo woman Frances Thompson has lived by ever since she was diagnosed with breast cancer in August.  

Even when chemotherapy caused her hair to fall out, the Bendigo South East College music teacher spied an opportunity to be creative. 

She enlisted friend Hyra Usman to decorate her newly bald head with a henna “crown”, an  intricate design of mandalas and floral motifs that reach all the way from her nape to her hairline.  

The traditional painting is often applied to the hands and arms of Hindu and Muslim brides.  

Ms Thompson said compliments about the body art were helping keep her remain upbeat while convelescing and hoped it would do the same for others battling ill health.  

“I still feel a bit rotten; [chemotherapy] makes you tired and your legs ache, and you have to have injections – all that sort of grim stuff,” she said. 

“But it’s lovely to connect so that when you’re sitting at home feeling miserable, thinking ‘it hurts, why me?’, you’re getting all these messages from friends saying, ‘keep going, you’re doing a great job’.” 

It was the first time Ms Usman, who described henna as a hobby, had completed a design on someone’s scalp.  

She normally plied her skill with henna at Muslim holidays Eid Al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, and Eid Al-Adha.

“It represents festivity,” she said, while applying a second coat to Ms Thompson’s crown on Tuesday.

Henna was also a powerful symbol of cohesion, Ms Usman said, explaining the tradition was common to both Indian and Pakistani cultures, as well as to the Hindu and Islam faiths.

“It’s such a good way to integrate and to give out the message that there are no boundaies,” Ms Usman said.

The two women met through the Believe in Bendigo movement, formed amid community debate about the  construction of a mosque in Bendigo in a bid to celebrate the city’s diversity. 

Ms Thompson’s first henna session even took place in the workshop of the organisation’s founder, Margot Spalding.

She said her friendships with other women were invaluable during treatment, with some even offering to accompany her to chemotherapy. 

Fortunately, Ms Thompson’s prognosis is a good one; her type of cancer was one that responds well to treatment. 

She was already looking forward to visiting her native England for Christmas and moving to Brisbane with her husband, St Paul’s Anglican Church dean John Roundhill.

The church leader was last week named as one of three bishops at the Anglican diocese of Brisbane.