NEW YORKFor 10 years, Cancer Care, Inc., a national nonprofit social service agency, has been giving away wigs at its Manhattan headquarters to women who have lost their hair due to treatment but cannot afford to purchase their own. Our whole philosophy at Cancer Care is to normalize the cancer experience, says Carolyn Messner, ACSW, director of education and training at Cancer Care.
Hair loss is one of the few treatment side effects that nothing can be done about, Ms. Messner noted. The only way is to camouflage it, she said. We try to do it with sensitivity. The stylist and the survivor who volunteers to help both understand the Cancer Care philosophy and bend over backwards, often giving away more than one wig to each woman.
On a recent afternoon, several women in kerchiefs, caps, and wigs that didnt look quite right arrived for the Cancer Care wig workshop. Hair stylist Clifford Hord, of the Edith Imre Foundation for Loss of Hair, and Elaine Baron, the volunteer, were waiting.
Elaine shuttled back and forth to the store room where the wigs donated by Edith Imre and other wig manufacturers were stored. She always managed to return with a wig that looked just right on a particular woman.
Mr. Hord made sure the wig fit and with a twist of the comb made it look natural. Oooh, I like that, Elaine said after Mr. Hord had finished styling one womans wig. This is what I used to look like! the woman exclaimed. She was down. We sent her out smiling, Mr. Hord said after she left.
A Natural Look
He emphasized that he tries to make the wig look as natural as possible. Its all in the styling, he said. We try to make it soft and easy. Its not good when every hair is in place. Then it will look too wiggish.
The wigs are made out of synthetic materials and can cost between $250 to $500. Good synthetic wigs often look better than human hair, Mr. Hord said. Whats more, if the scalp is kept clean, the wig needs to be washed only every few months and bounces right back to its original shape.
Mr. Hord said that the biggest problem is the fit. It has to be properly fitted like a pair of shoes. It has to be comfortable. If its too tight, it gives the person a headache and it rises up, he said.
Wigs can blow off, too, so they have to be properly attached. If there is no hair underneath, the person should use double stick tape, he said, and if there is some hair, it can be fastened to the wig with a bobby pin.
Mr. Hord and Ms. Baron also invite the women to return if they have any problems with their wigs, and they both reassure them that their hair will grow back.
Reassurance, Privacy, and the Wig
The reassurance, the privacy, and the wigs are a blessing, Ms. Messner said. For most people undergoing cancer treatment, the cost of everything is a problem. It is so comforting to have something that is free. There should be no patient out there who needs a wig and does not have one.
After the women attend these programs, Ms. Messner said, they actually beam. You could say they get themselves packaged emotionally at Cancer Care, but they need to be packaged externally also, and were equally diligent about improving appearance. Patients report what a difference it makes, and we can see it.
Cancer Care offers other appearance workshops, including assistance in selecting and fitting breast prostheses, and help using cosmetics during treatment.
Each month Cancer Care runs more than 100 specialized and general cancer-related support groups and more than 30 patient and community education programs at its office and other sites, as well as individual counseling, all at no cost to the patient. For information call 1-800-813-HOPE.