Michelle Cialdella

Chief Operating Officer, Functionalab Group Clinics Division and its partners Dermapure and Project Skin MD

“I want to build awareness around kids and especially teenagers and young adults living with cancer. I’ve seen so many of them at the hospital.”

Michelle Cialdella is an enthusiastic leader, a leader who’s also a good listener, tuned in to her people. After over 20 years with large companies, she recently joined a smaller business with a more human feel. That’s what makes her tick, what drives her. She is Chief Operating Officer with Functionalab Group Clinics Division and its partners Dermapure and Project Skin MD. A mother of three, she is also a board member with Leucan, a cause that hits close to home.

A bubbly go-getter, Michelle Cialdella didn’t hesitate to accept to join Les Audacieuses. “I’m doing it for my daughter, it will be quite an emotional moment” says Cialdella. Twice over, she saw her oldest daughter, a cancer patient, lose all of her hair because of chemo. The first time around at the age of 15, then once again at 17 years old. The cancer came back just a few weeks shy of her high school prom.

“My daughter lost her hair at times of great vulnerability. She was an up-and-coming high-level skier. The cancer hit right in the middle of her passion and of her sport, right in her teenage years. These are critical years for young girls, they are character-forming years, when you learn to assert yourself. On top of having to deal with the effects of cancer, she was losing all her beautiful hair.”

“The first time around, her hair was falling in clumps. We had to resort to shaving it all off.” When the cancer came back three years later, she had to let go of the idea of having the nice updo she had chosen for her prom night. As the years went by, she insisted on keeping up with her hobbies, and keep attending school despite the many hospital visits. “She hates being the center of attention, she is very private. She never wanted to be defined by her cancer. She tried as hard as she could to distance herself from her condition.”

Go full circle

Because she doesn’t wish to hurt her daughter by participating in the Leucan Shaved Head Challenge, Michelle Cialdella first made sure she was OK with it. It is actually going to be her daughter who will shave her head. “If it would’ve upset her, I wouldn’t have done it. She doesn’t cherish the ordeal she had to live through, but she learns to be at peace with it. She knows I’m doing this for her, like an act of hope.”

“Fingers crossed; we hope this stays a very, very distant memory.” The head shaving is part of this desire to move on. The mother makes no secret of the fact the she even sees it as a superstitious gesture. “Many people around us have had cancer, and some have passed away. There is too much of it around us. I am Italian, and Italians have all kinds of superstitions. To me, shaving my head is a way for me to come full circle. I tell myself: I will do this and cancer will leave us alone. Of all superstitions possible and imaginable, I wholeheartedly hope this one really works!”

A thought for teenagers

Private like her daughter, Michelle Cialdella wants to attract attention, not to herself and her situation, but to Leucan. “I want to build awareness around kids and especially teenagers and young adults living with cancer. I’ve seen so many of them at the hospital. It’s the age group that is forgotten, overlooked. We talk about small kids a lot, but it’s also very difficult for teenagers. It’s heartbreaking.” She also really stresses the importance of research.

Her grand gesture will bewilder many. “In executive circles, we’re used to women with long hair, wearing nice clothes and make-up. Very few women wear a shaved head. Les Audacieuses shatter the stereotype.” She doesn’t worry about losing her hair: “as soon as it will be long enough, I will have extensions put in, to avoid that awkward mid-length phase. Until then, maybe people will mistake me for a guy? That’s okay.”

Do good

If the conditions would have allowed it, she would have been throwing a big party to mark this milestone. “If it wasn’t for the pandemic, my house would be full of people! I like having people over, being surrounded. I like sharing moments and resources with the people I love. I like to give and see the good I can do around me. It is such a priceless thing to be a good person.” She hopes her gesture will inspire people to spread love around them, one kind gesture at a time.

Not being able to throw a big party, the family will celebrate as a small clan. After having gone snowshoeing with their dogs, they will get together at the cottage around a nice meal, maybe fondue or a raclette. Lots of talking, lots of laughing. “I like those little moments, the laughter, the simple pleasures. I see these moments with a different eye, since you never know what tomorrow will bring.”

Photographer, Andréanne Gauthier; stylist, Simon Venne (Judy Inc.); hair & makeup, Alper Sisters (Teamm Agency)