October 22, 2007—St Catherine’s College lost a much-loved Year 11 student, when Vui Vu died after a long battle with leukaemia.
Six months later on April 18, 2008—St Catherine’s College teacher, Lucy MacLeod, honoured her student, Vui, by having her hair shaved, as part of the ‘Shave for a Cure’ campaign to cure cancer.
Vui was a very special, talented young woman who loved school, enjoyed playing the drums, could cook up a storm, and had an irrational fear of cats.
She first succumbed to cancer during her primary school years, and when she began at St Catherine’s in 2005, her hair was just beginning to grow back after treatment. Vui was in remission and the future looked bright for her. But in Term One, 2007, there was renewed cause for concern, and soon she was hospitalised once more.
Vui underwent a bone marrow transplant that was eventually unsuccessful, and, after her battle, she died peacefully in Wellington Hospital. Almost a third of the college attended Vui’s funeral at Old St Paul’s Church, singing, sharing memories, and farewelling Vui’s coffin with a spine-chilling haka. Canteen representatives provided colourful helium balloons, which everyone released into the beautiful spring sky as we farewelled Vui.
Just after the Easter break, Vui’s whanau (form) teacher announced that she would have her glorious long, blonde hair shaved off, if the school could raise $1500 in memory of Vui, to be donated to the Leukaemia and Blood Cancer Foundation to help develop a cure for cancer.
On the final day of Term One, Lucy honoured her pledge and, before the whole school and a number of old girls and Lucy’s family, Mel, from Hair Phenomena in Kilbirnie, shaved off Lucy’s hair.
‘I didn’t realise how big it was going to be,’ Lucy said, ‘or the response that would come from this. I really wanted to do something, to give something I could give.’
The final fundraising tally from Lucy’s challenge is over $2,000. Vui’s closest friends were humbled and proud of their teacher.
‘Vui would be really proud. Ms MacLeod is not just a teacher, but a friend of Vui’s – she always was,’ Pooja Patel said.
This is especially true. Throughout Vui’s time in hospital, Lucy was totally supportive—a frequent visitor and friend, often taking other students from the college to visit Vui.
Lucy has always had a close understanding of cancer patients. Her father, Professor Rod MacLeod, is the Professor of Palliative Care at Auckland and Otago Universities. In recent years he was the medical director at Mary Potter Hospice, and currently also works at the North Shore Hospice in Auckland. Professor MacLeod’s stepson also had leukaemia when he was very young.
St Catherine’s College students and staff found the event both emotional and uplifting—the hall was strangely quiet. For Lucy the event was also unexpectedly emotional, not because of the loss of her hair—she said she felt oddly light-headed as each tress fell to the ground—but because of the strong connection she felt with Vui.