Bald and beautiful


If 8-year-old Sarah Parisian ever needed a reminder that she wasn’t facing her battle with cancer alone her mother, Karen, was right there with a shiny bald head, to relay that message.


Karen Parisian of Minnetonka, a 1985 Brainerd High School graduate who grew up in the Merrifield area, told her daughter that if the young girl lost her hair while being treated for a brain tumor, she would shave her head as well.

Parisian said no woman wants to be bald but when her daughter’s hair started coming out in chunks, she felt it was the right thing to do.

“I didn’t want her to have to go through it alone,” Parisian said. In addition, Sarah’s 12-year-old sister, Savannah, donated 11 inches of her hair to Locks for Love, a group that makes hairpieces for cancer patients.

Learning she could handle life with no hair wasn’t the only discovery Parisian made. She also learned that strangers are capable of incredible kindness when they see a family in need.

Sarah had a cancerous brain tumor removed on Dec. 17, 2011. Her mother said doctors were able to get 90 to 95 percent of the tumor surgically and the rest was taken care of by treating her alternatively.

The parents had resisted radiation treatment but agreed when pressured to do so by doctors. Seeking a type of radiation treatment that would yield fewer side effects, the Parisians chose proton therapy, a process that had to be done in the Chicago area. A friend in the Twin Cities offered them the name of relatives who were willing to give the family a place to stay in Naperville, Ill., about 35 miles west of Chicago. The treatments were done in Warrenville, Ill., about two miles from where they were staying. The proximity to the medical office was a blessing, she said, since it reduced the potential stress of battling congested Chicago area traffic.

“I hardly even go into Minneapolis,” Parisian said.

The Parisians had two stays in Naperville, one lasted three days and the other lasted seven weeks. Karen’s husband, Jon, and daughter, Savannah, stayed with them for nine days. A retired teacher, a friend of the first family in Illinois, gave them her house keys so they could receive mail when the other family had to stop its mail.

“She treated us like a daughter and granddaughter,” Parisian said of the retired teacher. “I don’t know what’s with these people, wanting to give me access to their home,” she said. “I’m a stranger.”

When they left Illinois, Parisian said Sarah started to cry as she thought of how much she would miss her new friends.

Even with their Illinois lodging costs covered, Parisian said they still spent $4,000.

Parisian was grateful to the kindnesses her family has been shown both in Minnesota and Illinois. It wasn’t that she was shocked when strangers in another state would open up their home to her family, but the depth of their generosity was surprising.

“I just didn’t expect them to care so much,” Parisian said.

The mother admits to some bitterness toward the medical community for pressuring them to have their daughter go through radiation treatments.

“Parents should have freedom,” she said.

Sarah is back in school and doing well, her mother said. At this point there is no sign of the cancer but eight months of radiation treatment are still ahead.

“I wouldn’t say it’s smooth sailing but better than average,” she said.

Meanwhile, back in the Merrifield area, one of their biggest cheerleaders is Leo Tautges, the father of Karen Parisian and grandfather of Sarah Parisian.

“Oh boy, those two kids (Karen and Sarah), they sure went through hell,” Tautges said. “I was so worried all the time and prayed every day for her (Sarah). I’m glad she’s better and home again.

MIKE O’ROURKE, associate editor, may be reached at 855-5860 or He may be followed on Twitter at

Mike O'Rourke
Mike O'Rourke began his career at the Brainerd Dispatch in 1978 as a general assignment reporter. He was named city editor in 1981 and associate editor in 1999. He covers politics and writes features and editorials.
(218) 855-5860