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Friendship goes more than hair deep

When Katie Fanua’s long, thick hair was lopped off last month, it benefitted more than Locks of Love.

It was a show of support for friend Flo Bennett, who for the past decade has battled discoid lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the skin.

Rashes or “flares” caused large chunks of Bennett’s hair to fall out. The hair she had left made it difficult to apply medicated cream to the area. She wanted to keep the disease a secret and would wear her thinning hair in different styles or under hats to mask her bald spots.

But it was a kids’ game that got her to share her story and shave her hair.

Bennett, who works for the Child Care Plus after-school program at Silver Ridge Elementary, was playing dodge ball with the children when a ball knocked her hat off. She continued playing.

“The kids just froze,” she said when they saw their caregiver with bald spots. She explained to the children there might be reasons a person looks strange. Asking questions is OK, but laughing and pointing is not, she told them.

“It was a learning experience for me and the kids,” she said. “Some kids got quiet and had teary eyes,” she said.

A week later she decided to cut her hair. Fanua saw a notice that Locks of Love was taking donations. Both women went to Michelle’s Head Quarters on McWilliams Road to shave their heads.

Fanua and Bennett met several years ago through the after-school program. Fanua, who works in security at Olympic High School, previously worked for the childcare program and continues to do so on non-student days.

It was a year after they worked together that they discovered they had graduated from the same San Diego-area high school. Fanua, 38, moved to Kitsap in 1987 because she wanted to leave southern California. Bennett, 40, moved here in 1995 because her husband’s in the Navy. In a yearbook group photo they stood near each other but never met.

Now their daughters “are like sisters” Bennett said, crossing her fingers.

“She encouraged me to get it done,” Bennett said Thursday of Fanua.

“It’s been kinda cold” without her hair, she said. A bandana covers her scalp and flare-ups.

Fanua describes her new ’do as “light and airy.”

She said the staff and students at the high school have been really supportive, although she has gotten a few looks from people. As for growing her hair out, Fanua hasn’t made up her mind.

“I’m just going with the flow, no pun intended.”

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