TV Newscaster Makes Bald Statement for Cancer Patients


Her shiny red lips and dangling gold earrings glinting under the bright studio lights, Leslie Mouton sat tall in her swivel chair and peered into the camera.

In a smart blazer and bright blouse, she had scanned her scripts and was ready to tell the city of San Antonio the news of the day: a school bus accident, a development in a murder case.

But the instant she went on the air, her viewers beheld another story, a deeply personal one--Mouton’s own.


The anchorwoman is bald. She is fighting cancer.

Last October, Mouton, now 36, discovered a cancerous lump in her breast. When she began treatment, she thought about how to balance her private ordeal and her public role. A broadcaster for 13 years, she decided to report on her illness in a first-person series.

KSAT-TV broadcast the series in a ratings “sweeps.” In the first part, Mouton still had her hair; viewers saw her lying on an operating table, her voice narrating with a detached tone.

Her husband was seen gently placing their 2-year-old daughter beside her on her hospital-bed pillow. The little blond girl--her hair matching her mother’s--asks in a tiny voice, “Are you OK?”

A second report showed Mouton softly weeping as red liquid is pumped into a device in her chest in her first chemotherapy treatment.

Though they had seen her in a hospital gown and groggy after surgery, the TV audience had yet to see what Mouton considered to be the most personal part of her story.

So one Friday night in February, after her usual hourlong process of sponging on foundation and brushing on blush, penciling in her eyebrows and shading her lids and lips, Mouton declared she was ready. She left her wig in her locker.


She stepped before the cameras with a head as white and hairless as an egg.

Smiling radiantly, she raised her hands before her as if to say, “Tah dah!” Co-anchor Steve Spriester praised her courage, but she waved the comment away. She needed to do it, she said.

“This is my reality,” she told viewers. “I’m bald.”

She paused, and a tape rolled. In it, Mouton’s head is covered with braids, each tied with a pink ribbon. She is surrounded by friends and relatives, and one by one they approach to snip the braids. One woman kisses her head, and Mouton tightly closes her eyes.

With no way to stop the loss of her hair--and all it meant--she decided to make it “a huge event,” Mouton explains in a voice-over.

It was like a game for her little girl, who tottered between the garbage can and her crouching mother, yanking handfuls of hair from her mother’s head. Finally a friend took an electric razor to the remaining hair. Holding a glass of wine, Mouton shrieked and laughed nervously in the video.

Though Mouton went on to present the news just as in any other broadcast, her willingness to unveil her bald head resounded across the city, with cancer victims and others.

One morning a few weeks later, Mouton breezed into a treatment center for radiation, wearing a bright melon-colored blazer that defied the dreary, overcast day--and nothing on her head but tortoise-shell glasses.


She returned smiles all around, and hugs.

“You’ve become a hero,” said 63-year-old cancer survivor Holly Sawyer, who wrapped her arms around the young anchorwoman.

A box beneath Mouton’s newsroom desk overflows with cards and letters expressing the same sentiment. One viewer sent a basket of carnations with a card telling her how beautiful she looked without her wig.

“Keep smiling,” wrote another. “I lit a candle Sunday at church and prayed for you.”

Advocacy groups have praised Mouton not only for trying to erode the stigma of being bald during cancer treatment, but for encouraging women to do self-exams.

“You just don’t realize the impact of when someone chooses to use their public position for a really personal thing,” said Martha Maynard, president of the San Antonio affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. “All of a sudden people didn’t hear her as a news reporter. They heard her as, ‘That could be me.’ ”

Maynard was glad, however, that Mouton chose to go without a wig for only one night. Otherwise, she said, it might have seemed the station was exploiting her illness.

Spriester, Mouton’s co-anchor, needed a little convincing that even one night was a good idea. “After she explained to me why she wanted to do it, I supported her 100%,” he said.


Spriester was worried that her appearance might distract viewers, and Mouton said his fears were well founded. That’s why she decided to go wigless for just one night: “I believe if I was up there every night without my wig, everyone would be staring at my head and not listening to what I’m saying.”

Before making the decision, Mouton consulted viewers on the station’s Web site. Most of 300 or so e-mail responses were encouraging, she said. Only a few tried to dissuade her, as did a few friends. They said they were worried about her image. “That’s not how I would want people to remember me, as some bald chick,” they said.

The reports aired on consecutive nights and followed the course of her treatments--first surgery, then chemotherapy, finally hair loss. After the second report, she announced that she would anchor the news the next night without her wig, in support of cancer victims.

A few within the industry hinted that her display was a ratings ploy (the newscast did, in fact, garner the best ratings for the night).

No, says Mouton, a born-again Christian: “This was God’s timeline.” She had waited until she finished her final chemotherapy treatment.

Her doctors say her prognosis is excellent. Her lymph nodes have tested negative for cancer.


Now she has a new outlook on life and the looks-conscious world of TV news.

“I’ve learned that I’m a beautiful person without my hair, without my eyelashes, without my eyebrows,” she says, powdering and shading and glossing in the TV station dressing room before yet another newscast.

“I’ve learned that the image on the outside truly is so unimportant in life, and that the really important things are the things that we always have a tendency to overlook--the sun shining down on your back and grass growing and beautiful flowers and my child throwing her arms around me.”

Looking at herself in the mirror, she pauses to run her palm from the top of her forehead back over her scalp.

She feels tiny wisps of hair.

And she smiles.