October 24, 2015
Derek Elvy is a Wellington hairdresser and co-director of Buoy Salon and Spa, which he jointly set up 28 years ago. During his career, he has been named Hairdresser of the Year seven times and is known for his avant garde hairdressing style. He had surgery for liver cancer in June this year.
"In the last three years, I've had two health scares. The first was a seizure three years ago, when I woke up in A and E. They ran every check possible but couldn't find anything. Not long after, we were packing up the salon and I started feeling the same way. I spent five days over Easter on monitors and found out I had an aortic vascular blockage. I ended up with a pacemaker implant. The side effects of the grand mal seizure were slightly frightening. I'd randomly become disoriented and feel sick, and I'd need to sit down in the dark, or on cold concrete. My use of the pacemaker is now minimal . Then this year I was diagnosed with having a cancerous carcinoma on my liver, and I had a resection through laparoscopic surgery which took eight hours. I didn't have chemo but I took six weeks off. My liver will take six months to regenerate, and I'll be scanned next week.
When I was thinking about what I would do if I found out that I only had 100 days to live, the first thing that came to mind was that I'm quite happy in my life and my skin. But I'd have no time to muck around. I'd need to learn to be more accepting of the generosity and love of family and friends. I can push people away because I am so fiercely independent. I'm the eldest child. I ran away from home at 16.
I'd take my mother to Europe. She's never been. She unselfishly gave her life to my father, who passed away in July and was in bad shape for 10 years. Mum has put her life on hold for Dad, and now she needs to fly and wants to. I think we are going to see a new woman rise from this - in fact, I know we are. She's 82.
The other thing I'd do is, I've had hundreds of photographs taken of the hair creations I've created over the years, and I'd want to put those into an archive so people can access them. I have been approached by two families who have wanted to use them for funerals - one for a hairdresser, the other for a model. Most of them are fantastical images, they're art works, and I think that somewhere like the Alexander Turnbull Library could conserve them.
I like to share an atmosphere, that's what excites me - whether it's the salon, garden, food, music or silence. Gardening has been a passion of mine since I was a child. I'd take Mum to some of the fantastic gardens in Europe, some of the ones I haven't visited either.
I feel quite strongly about some things I'd not tolerate anymore if I found out I had just 100 days left to live. I would want to rid myself of the diplomacy of tolerating stressed people, because stress sticks like tar. Thankfully that's not the bulk of clients. But I wouldn't want to waste my time with other peoples' stress. People who live in the first person - I would have zero tolerance for them too. Also the tourists of self-advantage, or people who come into my life because they want stuff and then they go.
I would stop working too, although I would maintain my relationship with Buoy, because I am Buoy.
Death isn't a subject I think about a lot, but I'm comfortable with the dark side. I was out on the town in the 1980s, when Aids first became an issue. Two of my best friends were among the first Wellingtonians to die from Aids-related illnesses. I lived through those kinds of experiences quite young. Drug overdoses, Aids and suicide took out a lot of young Wellington in those days, when hairdressers ruled the town.
I subscribe to euthanasia, very much so. I would want to choose my death if my condition was unmanageable. I have pride and I don't want to end up a hot mess and a burden to people. I would have worked my death through in my head anyway.