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Battling Cancer with Creativity

Stacey Soble | July 10, 2011 | 2:14 PM
Through the years, we’ve known David Wagner as an inspiring stylist, a leading salon owner, an association president, a celebrated author and a Daymaker. But for those of us who’ve known even one of these Davids, it’s emotionally difficult to know him as a cancer patient. While it’s a role he wouldn’t have chosen, in his typical fashion, he’s finding a creative way to leverage the experience to help and inspire others.

Like many stylists, Wagner, who owns JUUT Salonspas with locations in Minnesota and California, suffered back pain for years. Living in Maui with his wife Charlie and two young daughters, he had been dealing with the pain through a combination of massage, acupuncture and physical therapy. Last October, a physical therapist wanted to do some more aggressive work on his hip, but recommended Wagner have an X-ray first. Wagner was surprised when the X-ray, then a subsequent bone scan and blood tests, suggested he had Multiple Myeloma II, an incurable cancer of the blood. At first, doctors told him he had three to five years.



Wagner returned to his home state of Minnesota, seeking additional medical opinions first at the University of Minnesota and then the Mayo Clinic. Contradictory tests led to a biopsy of a lymph node, which resulted in a new diagnosis: B-cell Lymphoma, an aggressive form of cancer, yet one that responds quickly to treatment. By this time, it was April, and Wagner was using a wheelchair and couldn’t get out of bed.

Afew days after his Wagner’s first round of chemotherapy, the cancer had receded from his shoulder, ribs and back where it had spread, and was reduced in hip bone, and he was up walking around. Before his last round in early August, he had regained weight and was walking three miles a day.  In a few weeks, Wagner will undergo another scan which will reveal whether his body is free of Lymphoma or whether he’ll need to pursue other treatments.

“Throughout the process, I felt all the emotions—the anger, the ‘Why Me?’ the looking at the bright side of things,” he says. “We decided to capture that in a series of photos that bring people through the journey of cancer. We started right after the first round of chemo, and we chronicled the treatment, losing the hair, getting my head shaved at JUUT, regaining strength.”

For Wagner, the process of creating the images, which he hopes to put together in a book, was healing. “I wasn’t able to work on my business or be involved in the marketing, and I missed the creativity. Doing this project helped me heal emotionally.” He shares the first series of these portraits with this MobileMe video.

Throughout the process, the author of Life as a Daymaker, is grateful for the daymakers in his life. “So many people reached out, dropping off food and helping with the kids, sending their thoughts and prayers, and calling to share their own experiences,” he says.

“And I’m so grateful for my JUUT team,” continues Wagner. “This illness hit right when the recession did, and I haven’t been able to step foot in any of salons more than a half dozen times. Yet the business continues to do well and that’s a tribute to my management team and my staff. I’ve always said that a leader didn’t lead my business, the purpose of daymaking did. That purpose is alive and well.”


Originally posted on Salon Today.

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