Sentara Obici Hospital Director of Oncology Lynne Whitlock, left, and Cancer Educator Amy Peterson show off Peterson’s new haircut. She had a nine-inch ponytail cut off for the Pantene Foundation, which makes wigs for cancer patients.
Sentara Obici Hospital Director of Oncology Lynne Whitlock, left, and Cancer Educator Amy Peterson show off Peterson’s new haircut. She had a nine-inch ponytail cut off for the Pantene Foundation, which makes wigs for cancer patients.

Archived Story

Cancer educator gives up hair for patients

Published 9:13pm Saturday, March 9, 2013

Amy Peterson admits she was scared to get all of her hair cut off, but she did it for a good cause.

Peterson, a cancer educator at Sentara Obici Hospital, recently had more than nine inches of her hair cut off to send to the Pantene Foundation, which makes and gives away wigs for adult female cancer patients. The foundation supplies all the wigs for the Look Good, Feel Better program at the hospital, which Peterson helps facilitate, so it was a perfect fit.

“It was kind of scary,” Peterson admitted, even though she has had her hair cut many times for the foundation and for Locks of Love, which manufactures wigs for children with permanent hair loss.

“Working with the cancer patients, it is the least I can do considering the battle they’re going through every day,” Peterson said.

Of course, there are benefits for her as well. It takes less shampoo to clean and less time to dry. And then there are the comments from others.

“Most people said I look younger,” Peterson said. “That’s always a good thing.”

But the best part is that her hair will end up in a wig that will help a woman feel better — perhaps one right here in Suffolk.

“I think it was a fabulous idea,” said Lynne Whitlock, director of oncology at the hospital. “Amy’s presence in our community has been a phenomenal boost in educating Suffolk and Franklin and Smithfield.”

The Look Good, Feel Better program helps cancer patients learn to deal with the bodily changes they experience as part of their treatment, including hair loss and effects on their skin.

“I’m glad I can be a part of it,” Peterson said.

As a cancer educator, Peterson frequently talks to church and civic groups about cancer prevention and screening. It’s the most important part of her job, she says.

“I educate people on things they can do to help reduce their risk of getting cancer,” she said. Prostate cancer, for instance, is 90-percent curable if detected early in the process, she said.

She recalled a presentation about prostate cancer she made to a group, and afterward a gentleman came up to her and told her she had inspired him to get tested. He called her a few weeks later to tell her he had Stage 1 prostate cancer.

“If I can make that difference, it’s worth it,” Peterson said. “I believe in this cause so much.”

Whitlock said the hospital used to have a small turnout for its periodic free prostate screenings, but Peterson’s work has helped triple the number of men turning out. Prostate cancer is one of four — also including lung, breast and colon — for which the hospital emphasizes prevention and screening in its education programs.

“It’s been a life-changing opportunity for some people,” Whitlock said. “We are lucky we have the opportunity to have an educator. If we all work together, we can make a difference.”

For more information on Obici’s cancer programs, call 934-4395.

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