Business, employees support wig program

Published 10:25 pm Monday, January 12, 2009

There’s nothing like the bond between a woman and her hairdresser.

So when Jeanne Banks and Anne Barclay needed people to help with a new project, that’s exactly where they turned.

Banks, co-chairman of the Suffolk Relay for Life, and Barclay, community and patient resource manager for the American Cancer Society, were looking for volunteers to help female cancer patients.

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The American Cancer Society offers a program, “Look Good, Feel Better,” in which patients are taught beauty techniques by trained cosmetologists to help them deal with cancer’s more aesthetic effects.

Additionally, the ACS has a program to give free wigs to women who have lost their hair during their treatments. When wigs can run up to $2,000 and more in costs, it can be a financial burden to get one.

Oftentimes during the “Look Good” program, women who were losing their hair were told about ACS’s wigs. The only problem was women would have to travel to Virginia Beach or Newport News to get them.

For women who were already undergoing intensive chemotherapy treatments, this was not an ideal situation.

“I immediately thought, ‘We really need to find something here in Suffolk,’” Barclay said.

She began thinking of people who would be willing to host such an undertaking, and she talked with Banks to get some ideas.

“Jeanne said, why don’t we talk to the girls at Remedies?’” Barclay recalled. “It all just seemed to work out perfectly.”

Both Banks and Barclay regularly go to Remedies Medispa and Salon, so they asked their hairstylists LuAnne Whitley and Tracey Pender if they would be interested. They also approached Andrea Stone, another stylist at Remedies, who had heard about the program years before and expressed an interest, but did not know how to get involved.

All three women signed on.

“I couldn’t imagine being in the shower and having clumps of my hair fall out,” Stone said. “I’d be utterly devastated.”

Whitley had a long history with the “Look Good” program.

She had worked as a volunteer with it for 14 years, before taking a break when her grandson was born five years ago.

“I’ve shaved many a head, and they all have broken down and cried,” Whitley said. “As women, our hair is our vanity. It differentiates us. It sets us apart from other people. We want our hair. To lose it has got to be one of the most emotional experiences.”

Knowing the positive impact the program has for patients, she immediately wanted to help.

“Once you do it, no matter what’s going on in your life, it’s not important because there are people who are going through far worse,” she said. “We talked to Anne, and I went and got recertified. It’s just something that jumps out at you and you have to do it.”

The women now are not only volunteering with the “Feel Good” program, they also are giving up their days off on Mondays to personally fit women with their wigs.

Rhonda Bunch, the manager of Remedies, took the program one step forward.

“A lot of shops don’t support it,” Whitley said. “They’ll say it’s OK for you to do it, but we won’t. That wasn’t the case here. I told Rhonda, ‘Is it OK with you if I go and shave some women’s heads and help put their makeup on?’ and she said, ‘Well, OK, but what’s that all about anyway?’”

She allowed a new wig showcase to be placed in the salon to display some of the more than 120 wigs women have access to. Then, every Monday – when the shop is usually closed – she is opening it up, by appointment only, for women who call for a consultation with Pender, Whitley or Stone.

“This is a way for the women to get a wig, a free one, and have a stylist show them how to maintain it,” Barclay said. “It’s incredible.”

For more information on the wig program, call 934-4258.