Ruchi Patel knows only too well the pain of those who have been touched by cancer.
A form of the disease has affected several members of her family, including an aunt and a grandfather. Because of her family history, the wife and mother of two felt the need to get screened herself. The visit to the doctor may have resulted in a clean bill of health, but also produced an idea to help those who were not so fortunate.
“At the time of my consultation, the doctor saw that I had henna on my hand and asked about it, so I left a card and returned later with more cards,” said Patel, who has been practicing henna professionally for six years and as a hobby for 20.
The Mechanicsburg resident said she’s been enamored with henna since she was a girl in India, where the art is widely practiced. When Patel discovered that many women who lost their hair due to chemotherapy were excited by the idea of a henna “crown,” she decided to offer the service for free.
This form of body art, also referred to as mehndi, has its roots in ancient India and is safe and doctor approved, according to Patel.
“Henna is a plant from nature that grows in a warm environment,” she said. She mixes henna powder with lemon juice and essential oils, like tea tree oil. “This releases the dyes, which are all natural,” she said.
Patel said the “ink” has a cooling effect on the body, which is one of the reasons it is so popular in countries with warm climates. The process involves piping the pigment, which has a consistency of thin cake icing, with a narrow “cone,” which is similar to a pastry bag.
Barbara Myers learned of the art form during a chemotherapy appointment last October. “My nurse gave me a card and explained that Ruchi offers the service for free for cancer patients who lost their hair.”
The Carlisle resident said she jumped at the chance, not because it was complimentary, but rather because she wanted to do something special to celebrate her final treatment.
“Having a henna crown made me feel like I was back in control again,” Myers said, adding that she noticed a change in behavior among those she encountered. “People I passed in public no longer looked at me with sympathy, or nervously avoided eye contact. Instead, they smiled when I met their gaze, and I received many compliments.”
Myers recounts strangers walking up to her and asking questions out of curiosity. “It certainly was an ice breaker.”
Florence Barth, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, heard about Patel and decided to undergo the hourlong procedure in lieu of wearing a wig.
“I was already adjusting everything, a wig was just one more thing I didn’t want to have to adjust,” the Lebanon County resident said.
When Barth returned to work, her co-workers were enchanted. “They just loved it; it was fun, creative, and for me it represented freedom. I would say hi to people and they would do a double take — then they would laugh,” said Barth, adding that it removed the stigma attributed to hair loss.
The pigment eventually fades, which is a plus for those who want a temporary pick me up. Barth said her “tattoo” lasted about three weeks. “I figured why not do this while I have the opportunity,” she said.
Patel, who creates the crowns in her home, offers a seemingly endless variety of designs ranging from the simple to the complex, like an ornate bridal adornment, which can take up to eight hours.
Sharing her art with others has been very fulfilling for Patel. “What I love most about it is that it makes people smile. Most ladies love henna; it gives them a good feeling and it makes them happy, and if it makes people happy, it makes me happy as well,” she said.
To view more designs by Patel, visit her website at http://ruchihennaart.com.