It isn’t always about the dress

For most girls, the high school prom is about the dress. What colour? What length? What cut? What style? Not for Gizelle de Guzman. For Gizelle, the occasion of her high school prom was the perfect moment to take a stand and make a statement that very few of us would have the hutzpah or charisma to pull off.

And so, dressed in a vintage-style ball gown, befitting a princess, Gizelle arrived at her prom totally bald.

Her reasons for going bald are perfectly simple.

“I have been affected by cancer in so many ways,” Gizelle explains. “I lost my mom to cancer when I was nine and then my stepmother followed six years later.”

Gizelle also has friends, of all ages, who have a history of cancer.

“Three years ago I met this girl, she was the most beautiful girl ever and she had cancer and her boyfriend broke up with her because of cancer: No hair,” Gizelle says. “It was her graduation and no one was asking her to prom.”

Shortly after, Gizelle had a dream that inspired her to show solidarity for young people with cancer. She’d dreamt about a bald girl in a beautiful grown on prom night. “How would it feel to go to prom without hair?” she wondered.

Gizelle couldn’t shake the memory of that dream and, three years later, she found herself registering her online profile for a Shave Your Lid for a Kid® event scheduled for June 23, 2016—just two days before her high school prom.

“I wanted to be able to say that someone is there for you and that the presence of your hair should not control how you feel walking across that stage,” says Gizelle. “I know I’ll be judged. It’s human nature, but that’s kind of the point.”

Gizelle’s courageous move didn’t only raise a few eyebrows at the prom; it raised a lot of awareness and attention locally and farther afield. Several local media outlets ran stories on Gizelle and people now stop her on the street to talk.

gizelle & brother
Gizelle with her brother Reinier, who flew in from Australia to support his sister at her shave and prom events.

“Since I shaved my head, at least 10 strangers have asked me why my head is shaved, or if I have cancer, or just simply if I’m doing better,” says Gizelle. “It’s crazy how this simple change in my appearance can bring out sympathy in others.” This is precisely the response she was hoping to get. For Gizelle, shaving her head was all about the buzz it would create.

“I’ve wanted to do this for a long time,” she says. “I needed to do this.”

Originally from the Philippines, Gizelle and her family moved to Cremona, Alberta when she was 12. Fitting in was tough and she became the victim of small-town schoolyard bullies. She started to withdraw and became increasingly isolated and depressed.

Gizelle still struggles with post traumatic stress related to the extensive trauma and loss she’s experienced, but she is determined to get through it and, right now, she’s thriving.

Thanks to your support, Gizelle was able to find friendship and support at SunHaven, a camp program for young people who have a parent with a history of cancer.

“All of my friends, I met at Camp Kindle,” says Gizelle. “I met Melanie, my best friend, my first year at camp and we’ve been through thick and thin together. She’s honestly my sister now and her mom—well, she’s mine too. I have so many friends that I’ve kept in touch with from camp and it’s definitely kept me mentally strong. It’s a huge gigantic support system.”

Gizelle with her friends at Camp Kindle during our SunHaven camp program last summer.

Gizelle’s experiences at SunHaven inspired her to make Kids Cancer Care the recipient of her shave fundraising event.

“The first year, I was very frightened,” says Gizelle, recalling her first SunHaven camp experience. “I had all these negative thoughts that people were going to judge me, that I wouldn’t be accepted at camp, but it only took a couple hours to feel at home and now I look forward to it throughout the year. I’m honestly heartbroken knowing that it was my last year at camp, but I’m going to try and be a counsellor there one day. Camp’s taught me to see the good in people.”

In addition to raising more than $1,700 for Kids Cancer Care, Gizelle is hopeful that she may find some personal resolution through her courageous and compassionate decision to shave her head for prom night.

“Maybe it will provide some closure around my mother,” she says. “I like to think that by doing this, it was like she was there with me on prom night.”

Either way, the 17-year-old singer-songwriter is looking forward to a fresh start this fall at Dalhousie University, when she begins studies in accounting.

Thank you Gizelle! You are an inspiration and role model for so many. Thank you for holding your head high and taking a stand for young people with cancer.

Gizelle’s photo gallery