Pixie cut, bob, bangs. The choice is yours inside Cancer Services’ Wig Boutique. Whether curly or straight, brunette or auburn, there are options for women facing the distressing loss of hair during cancer treatment.
“The wigs help make them feel whole again,” Shawnda Barrow, client services liaison, Cancer Services, said.
Locks of Comfort
Take Eda Johnson for example. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in June 2021. Shortly after beginning treatment, her hair began to fall out, as expected. Still, it came as a shock to her emotionally.
“I don’t do wigs, but I don’t do a bald head either,” Eda said.
At first, she used scarves and caps to cover her head when she left the house, particularly when going to church. While they worked to cover her balding head, they didn’t do much to boost her confidence. So, she decided it was time to consider getting a wig.
“I went to a wig shop in my hometown,” Eda recalls. “However, she wasn’t able to try any on due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She couldn’t justify spending the money if she didn’t even know how the wig would look or feel once she put it on.
But the staff at Cancer Services in Baton Rouge were on it. They informed her of the Wig Boutique and its resources, and quickly made an appointment for her.
“They called me,” Eda said of the social worker who reached out to her. “I went over and found a great atmosphere.”
Once inside the room, outfitted with mirrors and chairs reminiscent of a beauty parlor, Eda remembers being overwhelmed by the options presented by Shawnda.
“She got out boxes, was searching in boxes,” Eda said. “She pulled out at least six or seven wigs. She didn’t stop until she found something that worked for me.”
Shawnda and other staff members individually help each client find the perfect fit among a selection that includes hundreds of wigs in a variety of colors, cuts and textures. Some come from donors’ natural hair, while others are synthetic or a mix of both.
Cancer clients who lose their hair are allowed to pick out two wigs, free of charge. Eda’s first selection was a short, curly grey cut made up of real hair that allowed her to style it herself at home.
“When she put it on to style it, I didn’t want to take it off,” Eda said.
She describes her second choice as having bangs and being a bit more ‘chic.’
For someone once hesitant to try a wig, Eda is still wearing hers today, citing how comfortable, but most importantly, how confident she feels in it.
“It has encouraged me to go more places,” said. Eda. “It’s a blessing.”
Locks of Hope
Bonnie Riley has been getting her hair done every two weeks for as long as she can remember. Even as she raised six children, she managed to keep that standing appointment.
“There’s just something about getting your hair done that puts a little pep in your step,” Bonnie said.
Bonnie, now a breast cancer survivor, credits Cancer Services’ Wig Boutique with helping to restore that feeling over the past couple of years.
A routine mammogram in November 2020, followed by more extensive testing, would reveal a stage 3 diagnosis. After facing several hurdles, she began undergoing chemotherapy in June 2021. Within a few treatments, Bonnie began to lose her hair.
“I didn’t bother me,” Bonnie recalled. “I knew it was probably going to happen.”
As that happened, Bonnie made it her priority to keep things in perspective.
“I kept telling myself that it was going to be alright,” she said. “It was just hair.”
But for someone who has taken pride in her appearance for as long as she can remember, the sight of losing her hair began to have an effect on her when she looked in the mirror.
While the Wig Boutique wasn’t taking clients because of the pandemic, Bonnie’s name was added to a list for individual appointments when it reopened.
When it was finally time to go try on wigs, Bonnie says Shawnda made her feel welcome and at home inside the boutique.
“She made it a private and personal experience,” Bonnie said.
But for Bonnie, whose hair is grey, there weren’t many options for her to choose from originally. Thanks to Shawnda, that wasn’t the case for long.
“She took her time and she found some more wigs,” Bonnie recalled.
But with so many styles to choose from inside the boutique, Shawnda encouraged Bonnie to step outside of her comfort zone when selecting another wig.
The end result was a sleek black wig that Bonnie’s husband loved.
“Just putting on a little wig boosted my morale,” she said. “I put my wig on, put my lipstick on, and was ready to go.”
And thanks to Shawnda and the staff at Cancer Services, Bonnie has that pep in her step once again.
“The Wig Boutique helped me to maintain that.”
Locks of Confidence
If you didn’t know better, you would’ve thought Gilda Francois was getting ready for a walk down the red carpet as she sat in the styling chair inside the Cancer Services Wig Boutique one afternoon in April. She was searching for just the right look and wasn’t going to settle for anything less.
Gilda’s journey to that chair began in July 2021, when stomach problems turned out to be stage 4 colorectal cancer. The diagnosis came as a shock, but it didn’t manage to dim the charisma she brings to every room she enters.
“My good days outweigh my bad days, so I’m going to keep moving forward,” Gilda said.
Even as she started losing her hair during chemotherapy, she didn’t allow pessimism to take root.
“Each time I combed it, fistfuls of hair were coming out,” Gilda recalls. “I told my husband, ‘I guess we’ll just have to get the clippers and cut it off.’”
During the course of her treatment, Gilda was connected to Cancer Services.
“Shawnda didn’t waste any time,” Gilda said.
Once inside, Gilda was astonished at all the options available to her. She knew what she wanted and was able to relay that to Shawnda who carefully crafted a look that would please her.
“It was just right and just what I needed” Gilda said. “She gave me the perfect look.”
Beyond providing a sense of much needed normalcy, the wig gave Gilda the confidence she needed as her journey with cancer continued. In love with the wig, Gilda had no problems with looking at herself in the mirror, taking pictures or letting others know not just how good she felt, but how good she looked.
“When I put on my wig and I step out, I am the most gorgeous woman there is on Earth,” Gilda said. “Every morning when I wake up, I look in the mirror and tell myself, ‘good morning, gorgeous.’”
She credits Shawnda and the team at Cancer Services with making her feel beautiful inside and out.
“Whatever they can do to help us, that is what they do,” Gilda said. “They go above and beyond. They are helpers.”
Unlocking a New Life
“It’s like they shed skin, they open up,” Nancy said. “They become comfortable.”
Nancy attributes patients being put at ease inside the Wig Boutique to Shawnda, whose “calming effect” leads these ladies to open up to her.
“She can look in a client’s eyes and know what’s going with them,” Nancy Gosserand, director, Cancer Services, said. “She has a sixth sense, a gift.”
For Shawnda, time spent one-on-one with clients in the wig boutique provides her a sense of fulfilment, and not just because she’s able to find the perfect style for any preference.
“This service makes a difference in a client’s everyday life,” Shawnda said. “I see a different person walk out than who walked in.”
Thanks to community generosity, wigs are provided to clients at no cost. To contribute to Cancer Services visit cancerservices.org.