When Jeanie Trudeau went into the Fringe Salon at the Paul Bunyan Mall in January, she had no idea that her stylist, Shannon Knutson, might save her life.
"I don’t get my hair cut all that often,” Jeanie said. “I had gone in for a haircut in December and Shannon said, ‘You have a spot up there that I haven’t noticed before. You should probably have that checked out.’”
Shannon said the spot looked like a bruise, was grayish in color and had a small line around it. It was the first time she had ever seen something like this in her 17 years as a stylist.
Jeanie had bumped her head recently and thought maybe the spot was just a bruise. When she went home, she had her husband Dan look at it and he thought it might just be a bruise too. A week later, she had him look at it again. It appeared to be going away, so Jeanie didn’t give it another thought.
Normally she wouldn’t have gone in for a haircut again for a while, but since she and her husband were going to Florida the end of January, she decided to get her hair trimmed before they left.
When Shannon started cutting her hair, she asked, “Did you have that spot checked?”
Jeanie said, “No,” and Shannon told her, “Well, it’s still there. And I think it’s bigger.”
This time Jeanie followed up with a trip to the dermatologist. Dr. Natalie Roholt thought it might be a melanoma and did a biopsy. A few days later, when she and Dan were in Florida, she got the results: The spot was, indeed, a melanoma. She wasted no time calling the Mayo Clinic to schedule surgery.
In November -- less than a month before that first haircut -- Jeanie had had a skin check in Rochester as part of a routine checkup and body check, but the spot had gone unnoticed. “Either they hadn’t seen it or it wasn’t there,” she said, not quite certain if the check had included the top of her head.
Sanford Bemidji sent the slides down to the Mayo Clinic right away, Jeanie said. Mayo looked at the results, verified the melanoma, and scheduled surgery for March 2.
“I had Mohs surgery,” Jeanie said, “where they test and keep testing as deep as they need to go.”
Mayo’s website describes Mohs surgery as “a precise surgical technique” during which “thin layers of cancer-containing skin are progressively removed and examined until only cancer-free tissue remains.”
The outpatient surgery was performed by Dr. Kevin Brough and overseen by Dr. Randall Roenigk, who, according to the surgical nurse, was the first doctor ever to do the surgery at Mayo Clinic.
“I went in about 7:30 in the morning and was out by noon or 1 p.m.,” Jeanie said. A local anesthetic was used and a patch of hair about the diameter of a softball was shaved off the top of her head. Since the surgery cleared a large area and removed much of the tissue, the opening could not be stitched shut, but Jeanie described the doctor putting in a “slip stitch” at the end of the operation to try to pull the opening together.
“They were squeezing the top of my head together -- and I could feel it pulling.” She made a joke about getting a face lift out of the deal, to which the doctor joked back about not telling her insurance or they wouldn’t cover it.
Jeanie was impressed by her doctors and felt fine when she left Mayo Clinic, but about half way back to Bemidji, when the local anesthetic was wearing off, there was some pain.
Two weeks after surgery, Jeanie said, “I still have a nice big chunk out of the top of my head,” but what if she’d never gone in for that second haircut? And what if Shannon hadn’t been so observant and insistent about her having it checked out?
The whole incident “kind of knocked the socks off me,” Jeanie said, but as soon as she was feeling better, she and Dan took a lovely bouquet of flowers to Shannon at the salon and left her a hearty tip.
Shannon was surprised. “I couldn’t figure out why she would be bringing me flowers,” she said. “She hugged me and told me that I had saved her life and she would forever be in my debt.”
Postscript: Normally a picture of Shannon and Jeanie together at the salon would have accompanied this story, but shortly after Jeanie’s visit with flowers, the salon was shut down due to the coronavirus, and Shannon and her co-stylists were (and still will be for at least a few more weeks) out of work. The photo of Shannon was taken shortly before the shutdown. Jeanie sent her pic, taken “before the hole in my head.” The two are “socially distanced” on this page.