(Medical hair enhancements can aid in recovery)
Cancer is no respecter of persons. It strikes the young and old. It knows no socio-economical differences. In the United States, everyone knows someone who has cancer, someone who succumbed to cancer, AND someone who has beaten cancer.
It is well known that when a person battles cancer, a positive mental attitude can help with recovery. How a person feels about their physical appearance can increase a positive attitude. When a woman or girl loses her hair due to the effects of chemotherapy, there are many options for temporary hair replacements until her own hair grows back. “Top of the head” wigs, halo wigs and hair attached to hats or scarves are some of the popular options.
Kelli Christie, Georgia native and owner of Illuminations by Borrelli’s Salon in Alpharetta specializes in “medical hair enhancements.” Christie originally wanted to be a nurse, but chose cosmetology. Soon after opening the Borrelli’s Salon nine years ago, she had three clients diagnosed with cancer in the same week. Christie found a way to help her clients and fulfill her desire to somehow be involved in the medical community. The medical grade wigs she provides are for those dealing with thinning hair or hair loss. Cancer patients and people suffering with alopecia (a type of hair loss that occurs when a person’s immune system attacks the hair follicles) can find a variety of options. The first time she meets a client who will experience an expected hair loss through cancer treatment, they talk about options for hair enhancements. “Many women want to cut and use their own hair. We can cut the hair, but we can only use it before their first chemo treatment. The hair is effected by the chemotherapy and will not be strong enough or in good enough condition to use.”
Kelli Christie shared her knowledge of some of the types of wigs available for people who have complete hair loss.
True synthetic wigs are usually created in a short hairstyle. The curl has memory so it is easy to wash and care for. Synthetic wigs are heat sensitive. Christie advises, “Don’t use this type of wig if you do a lot of cooking. These wigs can be damaged by the heat that escapes from a hot oven when opening the door.”
Heat-defiant synthetic wigs are very popular for their relatively affordable price (cheaper than wigs made with human hair) and heat resistance. A person can cook while wearing the heat-defiant wigs and use a blow dryer on it after washing.
Heat-defiant and human hair blends are wigs that feel like human hair, but are still more affordable than human hair wigs. They tend to last longer and don’t fray as easily on the ends.
Human hair wigs are hand tied to silk caps and take multiple heads of hair to create. “Generally, people who have had long hair, tend to go with this one,” Christie added. We do a lot of color work to match the color of our customer’s own hair. The medical grade wigs can be made up in as little as two days.
“I just want to feel like me.”
Brittany Atkinson, an Alpharetta mother of three in her 30s experienced the personalized hair enhancement service from Illuminations firsthand. Atkinson was diagnosed with breast cancer in February of 2014. In preparation for the inevitable hair loss she would experience, she allowed her young daughter to cut her hair. “Reese was all too happy to do it, “ says Atkinson with a laugh.
While her faith, friends and family helped keep up her spunky and fun attitude, Atkinson felt a wig would help her feel more normal during the series of cancer treatments. “I just wanted to feel like me.”
“I didn’t work outside the home, so when I was in my house, I didn’t wear anything. After a while, I identified with being bald. I would wear scarves to pick up the kids from school. When I went to church or to the store, I would wear my wig. It helped me feel anonymous. Like a normal human being.”
Atkinson chose a full human hair wig that was styled so close to her own hair color and length that many people who knew her before her treatments had no idea she was completely bald underneath. “There’s a huge difference in price, but it was totally worth it.” Some insurance companies can defray the cost of the medical hair enhancements.
A tender mercy still touches Atkinson’s heart when she talks about it. Two teenage girls from her church donated their hair and created a halo wig that was attached to a cute hat. Both of the girls’ names are Madison. Atkinson called it her Maddie wig. She loved the auburn color and the ease of slipping on the cap in a minute’s notice. A friend wrote on Atkinson’s Caring Bridge journal entry of the gift, “An example of pain recycled into tangible products of love.”
The girls used the website www.hatswithhair.com. The service has become so popular it has spawned another website named www.chemodiva.com. There are many types of swim caps with hair, and sassy ponytails with sweatbands attached that are available for women and girls who want to look sassy and fashionable even while receiving chemo treatments or dealing with alopecia.
Atkinson is finished with her treatments and her own hair is growing back. She keeps her long blonde wig as a reminder and in case her cancer returns. “I see it every day in my bathroom on its Styrofoam head. I laugh that I don’t have to wear it anymore.”
Want to donate your hair?
Atkinson and Christie favor www.childrenwithhairloss.us as a place to donate hair. The organization does not charge for the wigs they give to children with hair loss.
Published in October 2015 edition of Northside Woman Magazine