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Woman leaves job in show of solidarity for sister battling cancer

SPOKANE, Wash. - Cancer solidarity

A Spokane woman who shaved her head as a show of solidarity for her sister who has cancer quit her job at Northern Quest Resort and Casino after she was made to feel embarrassed for shaving her head.

Friends and family members who shave their heads in support of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy are sometimes told to cover up because their look is offensive. In this case, Melanie Strandberg wouldn't stand for it, and her stand has sparked a firestorm of support from the worldwide cancer community.

Melanie's sister Marissa has cancer. First it was ovarian but now cancer has shown up in her sister's colon.

"She's amazing; she's the most amazing person I know," Strandberg said.

Marissa's chemotherapy treatment starts this Thursday, so, two weeks ago, to show her support for her sister, Strandberg shaved her head.

"It's great. It's very uplifting, believe it or not," she said.

But her world of hope and sisterly solidarity shattered when Strandberg said managers at the salon at Northern Quest, where she was a hair stylist, did not approve of her new look.

"It was reiterated to me that I could be offensive and then I was told that 'How are you supposed to market hair if you don't have any?'"

Strandberg said she went up the chain of command to complain, but didn't get the response or support she wanted so she resigned. Her story hit the Internet and a TV network morning show and brought more support than she could have imagined, with messages pouring in from Facebook.

"I support what you did and standing up for what is right. Thank you for all your courage," Strandberg said, reading from a message she received on her phone.

"You may not remember me but you did my first haircut and color after my chemotherapy and radiation treatments."

"Keep going strong, you're making a huge difference."

In their response to the incident, Northern Quest said in part, "We are very concerned about Melanie's reported experience. It is inconsistent with our values, culture and past practices and it's unacceptable. Right now we're conducting a thorough internal review to determine the facts."

"I just wish it didn't happen. I wish it wouldn't have happened in the first place," Strandberg said.

For now, she'll focus on what shaving her head was about in the first place -- her sister.

"I want her to be healthy. I mean I don't want her to be sick anymore," she said.

Marissa now has her sister, and a worldwide army of supporters, supporting her in her fight against cancer.

"A long time ago somebody told me, 'You know hair is just a frame for your face.' It's not about what we look like, it's about who we are on the inside," she said.

As for her employment status, Strandberg's story has gotten her job offers at salons around Spokane and she's happy to say that she'll be accepting a position at a different salon soon.

Northern Quest Resort and Casino's statement:

Late in the day on Thursday, June 13, one of our employees, Melanie Strandberg, resigned via text message, saying that she was asked to wear a wig after shaving her head in support of her sister, who has cancer.

We are very concerned about Melanie's reported experience.  It is inconsistent with our values, culture and past practices and it's unacceptable. Right now we're conducting a thorough internal review to determine the facts. We would welcome the opportunity to talk with Melanie directly and have made that offer repeatedly.

To be clear, Northern Quest does not have a policy that prohibits team members from shaving their heads. And there is NO policy that requires someone with a shaved head to wear a wig. Over the years we have had other team members who have undergone treatment for cancer and others who have shaved their heads in support of family or friends.

Melanie's job is still here for her.  We recognize this is an emotional and stressful situation for her and her family.  We hope she will choose to stay on as a member of the Northern Quest team.

Strandberg's attorney's response to Northern Quest's statement:

Nobody should be made to feel ugly, inadequate, insecure, or that they cannot perform their job, due to the length of their hair. No employer should be more concerned about their exterior image than the extraordinary value and courage of Melanie's actions to support her sister with cancer.

It's important that the public is aware that Melanie worked through all of the appropriate channels at her job, and within the human resources department, to solve the situation.  She was told she would "offend" customers and would be unable to sell products or perform her job due to the length of her hair. 

Northern Quest has already acknowledged that telling Melanie she was insubordinate, and forcing her to reign, was wrong, but actions speak louder than words.  Northern Quest needs to show that their core values do not end at the community should be proud of a person like Melanie Strandberg.  Anyone would be proud to call her their sister, their daughter, their co-worker, their mom, their friend.  Beauty comes from within.

Melanie Strandberg's actions in support of her sister with cancer was not an act of defiance, but an act of love.