Sophie Mottard, MD, FRCSC

Orthopedic oncology surgeon

“It’s important for me to show that I’m not generous because it’s my job! Leucan is omnipresent in my life and in my teens’ lives. Getting my head shaved feels like a natural choice.”

Dr. Sophie Mottard is an orthopedic-oncology surgeon at the Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital and the CHU Sainte-Justine. Known for her dedication and human qualities, she charmed Quebecers through her appearance on the De Garde 24/7 TV series. Winner of several awards, she is one of the rare surgeons in Quebec specialized in treating sarcomas.

In loving memory of Dania

Dr. Mottard was sitting in her office at the CHU Sainte-Justine when she agreed to participate in the Audacieuses project. As soon as the decision was made, she rushed out to the intensive care unit to share the news with Dania. Her young 19-year-old patient was living through her last days. “I will get my head shaved for you, for all of you!”

Her eyes wide with shock, Dania burst out laughing. “I can’t believe that you will do that for us.” The young woman couldn’t help picturing the surgeon with a bald head. “Dania was laughing uproariously, giving me high-fives. Her parents were crying in the background. Those are wretched moments that are also filled with beauty and richness.” Dania died soon after, over the Holidays, but on the day of the Challenge, she will certainly be on the dedicated doctor’s mind.

“I treat sarcomas, a type of cancer with an especially high mortality rate. The past two years have been particularly laborious with many patients suffering recurrence or developing metastases.” Up to 50% of adults and 30% of children die from it. “It’s huge.”

Making her patients laugh

Dr. Mottard insists: “I agreed to the Challenge to support my teens first and foremost.” That is how she refers to her young patients: her teens. “We’re very close, they are so endearing.” As her locks fall under the blade, she will think of all the girls who lose their long hair due to chemotherapy. “Looks mean everything for teenagers.” She will also have a thought for the young people she had to operate on: children who, at a time when they should spread their wings and enjoy a carefree life, have to instead undergo trying treatments or even mutilating surgeries. “Through those ordeals, they become extremely deep individuals, anchored in reality. They are simply inspiring. I really want to show them that I’m standing with them, that I’m part of the group. But most of all, I want to make them laugh.”

An extraordinary surgeon

With her running shoes, Superman t-shirt, and rebellious locks, Dr. Sophie Mottard does not present the image of a typical medical specialist. And this difference goes beyond mere looks. She sets herself apart with her compassionate approach and the strong bond she forms with her patients. “I loathe the traditional model of the self-important surgeon high on a pedestal. It actually made me hesitate to become a surgeon.” Still, she forged ahead to show the world that things could be done differently.

Her father, a slightly funky psychiatrist, suggested that she keeps a distance with her patients. “That doesn’t work for me,” she confesses. “My patients are a part of my life. My family knows this and accepts it. When I lose a patient, I’m inconsolable for days, but I can live with that.”

The people in her life know her for her extreme generosity at work but the Audacieuses project represents her first public gesture of generosity. “It’s important for me to show that I’m not generous because it’s my job! Leucan is omnipresent in my life and in my teens’ lives. Getting my head shaved feels like a natural choice.”

Gabrielle, the Shave Master

Her Challenge day will be very special. “I asked Gabrielle, one of my young patients, to do the honours.” The surgeon was steadfast on that point: her teens had to be involved! “My patients are so excited, the whole gang! When I spoke of the shave, it had a snowball effect, and the reaction was very positive.”

A stark contrast

“With the lockdown, my hair curls more then ever. I used to take the time to straighten it but I’ve now decided to fully assume a more dishevelled look, very beach bum. I look like I’ve been plugged into a 220V circuit! My cheeky side has definitely resurfaced. A nurse even offered me some curl cream! All that to say, that the before/after difference will be striking! At 6.1 ft and 183 lbs, I will probably look a little tough but I think I will wear it well,” she says without concern. With her scrub cap on most of the time, few will notice the change at the hospital.

Her loved ones are behind her 100%. Her 13-year-old daughter actually delivered a gripping argument: “She said, ‘If you don’t do it, you’re no longer my mom! You fight to cure your patients. Now, you’re being asked to help them by getting your head shaved? Do it! It’s only hair. It’ll grow back.’” Dr. Mottard makes it her duty to instill the importance of the gift of self to her children. “So, I couldn’t back down.” Her husband is also supportive. “My hair is getting shorter every year, so he thinks this is the logical end of the cycle!” she laughs.

Stepping out of her comfort zone

The promotional campaign around the Audacieuses project is more bewildering to her than the actual shave. “The shooting that comes along with it takes me completely out of my comfort zone. I’m not exactly girly: you will rarely find me in a dress with heels. I could talk about sarcomas in front of a million people, but plop me in a cocktail or social event, and watch me get cold sweats and run! Fortunately, I won’t be alone. I’m doing this for Leucan, for my patients and their parents.”

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