WORCESTER - Anticipation had been building for nearly seven hours.
When the clippers came out, buzzing and humming softly, a quiet came over the salon. Hair dresser Irene Harris asked her client if she was ready. The 21-year-old responded it was 'now or never.'
'There's no turning back,' she said.
Harris touched her instrument down to the young woman's head and proceeded to shave off all her hair.
The client, Jennifer Fields, lost her father about six years ago to pancreatic cancer. The Worcester resident, who grew up in Holden, said she knew she wanted to do something to contribute to the nonprofit Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. She decided she'd raise $500 for cancer research by getting a full buzz cut.
When Harris - owner of Personal Best Hair Salon since 1990 - saw a Facebook status from Fields about the endeavor, she said she was stunned. Fields and her mother had been clients at the salon for years; the shop owner insisted the young woman let her team be a part of the hair-cutting process.
'Every year I do something special for one of my clients,' Harris said. 'I saw Jen's post and I thought, 'I'll do it for her.' '
Harris is known for making lasting relationships with clients, once giving away $1,000 to a customer facing hard times. She struck up a deal with Fields; she'd give the young woman $500 if she'd volunteer to be a hair model for a few hours. Harris wanted to use Fields for practice so her new assistant could try out some different techniques. Then, at the end of a full day of layered cuts, hair dye, pixie stylings and mohawks, Harris would write a check.
'I thought she was joking at first,' Fields said. 'At first I was going to try for $100, but my mom told me to go for more. I hit my goal within an hour because of Irene. I was just amazed that she did that.'
Harris, 51, said Fields' struggle after losing her father, John Fields, hit close to home. Her own mother died from lung cancer only a few weeks ago.
'Mom would have loved this,' Harris said, as she pulled up one side of Fields' hair for a closer trim Tuesday afternoon. 'She was always in and out of the salon. She would have stayed for the whole thing.'
John Fields worked in Worcester's Water Department. He died five days before his 45th birthday following a six-month battle with the disease. He died the day after he stopped his chemotherapy treatments, at the recommendation of his doctors.
When it was time for the shaving process to start last week at the salon, Harris' assistant prepared the area. After seven hours of nonstop work, a portion of Fields' hair was dyed bright purple for pancreatic cancer awareness as a practice round for Amanda Richards, the new assistant from Southbridge.
A Telegram & Gazette photographer snapped a quick test shot before the big event, but was perplexed by what she saw in the preview screen of her digital camera. A reflection of light inexplicably danced across Fields' face.
'That's her dad,' Harris said, pointing to the screen.
The day was full of supernatural moments for the women. In the icy morning, Harris went to pick up Fields to start off their hair styling adventure. When they arrived at the shop on West Boylston Street to open up for the day, Harris turned on her iPod and the first song to come up was John Fields' favorite song. The ladies said they believed that was no coincidence - 'Live Like You Were Dying' by Tim McGraw was a message from beyond.
'Dad was here for a little bit,' Harris told Fields, who was emotionally exhausted by the end of the day. The hair dresser looked into the mirror in front of her client. The two locked eyes and smiled at each other.
Throughout the day, clients in and out of the shop were mesmerized by the many styles of Ms. Fields' hair. One woman commented how much she loved the purple color.
Fields went from foiling to lighten her dark hair, which fell just below her shoulders, to a stacked bob cut. Then her hair was trimmed down to a pixie style before it was morphed into a short faux-hawk look.
Fields said maybe in the future, after growing back her locks, she'd try out the bright purple color again, just to keep her dad close to by. Earlier this year, she had a photo of her father tattooed on her leg as well. His face poked out from beneath her black salon gown as she shifted in her seat.
'We were best friends,' Fields said. 'When I got the tattoo, I was thinking of him the whole time. ... My dad was such a big part of my life and having him on my leg all the time is just good because I'll never forget him.'
Asked if she thought her father would be proud with her decision to shave off her hair, Fields began to laugh.
'I'm not sure,' she said. 'I'm sure he'd like that I raised so much money. I'm not sure he'd like for me to be without hair.'
Personal Best Hair Salon continues to accept donations for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and so far, Fields has collected an additional $200. For more information, visit www.pancan.org/ or donate to Fields' personal crowdfunding page at http://ift.tt/131O868.
Contact Samantha Allen at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @SAllen_89.