A Program for those Suffering from Hair Loss Due to Cancer




Introducing a new program that brings a new level of support to cancer patients who suffer from hair loss due to chemotherapy treatments. It’s heartbreaking enough for any woman to be diagnosed with cancer. But when treatment calls for chemotherapy, a whole list of “side issues” are raised; in addition to the debilitating physical effects of chemotherapy treatments, there is also a significant cosmetic complication: hair loss.
For some women, thoughts of losing their hair can be as devastating as the cancer itself. They’re scared of the cancer, to begin with; the thought of hair loss, particularly the attention that it draws, is another seemingly impossible obstacle to deal with.
The problem most women have is that they don’t know who to turn to for assistance even though they’re aware of their alternatives: Do I wear a scarf or a hat? Do I just go out bald? Do I get a wig? Caregivers in the medical profession generally aren’t equipped to supply such information. So who is?
Hair replacement studios and salons have traditionally specialized in replacing the hair of women who have lost it for reasons other than chemotherapy or other medical treatments. Studies indicate that approximately 10 percent of premenopausal women show evidence of genetic hair loss. These would seem to be logical venues for women to receive help.
That was the thinking when several hair replacement studios and salons banded together to form Recover with Confidence, a program aimed at bringing hair loss alternative information and support to chemotherapy patients.
Bob Rider of HRC (Hair Replacement Clinic) in Dayton, Ohio, was one of the original participants in the Recover with Confidence program. “This whole thing began when, while interacting with other hair replacement studios across the country, we discovered that we were all seeing a trickle of women contacting us who had chemotherapy.”
“They learned about us on their own, either searching the Web or their phone books. What concerned me was a couple of things: number one, that health care providers really couldn’t offer much help if the patient was seeking a wig, and number two, that these women were often going to fashion wig shops and catalogs and online retailers that really couldn’t offer anything suitable for them.”

The problem with “fashion wigs,” as Recover with Confidence partner Nina Ragan, of Ultimate Image Studio in Sacramento, Calif., pointed out, is they really don’t suit the needs of chemotherapy patients. Most fashion wigs are a lot of work, requiring a high degree of care and upkeep, the last thing a woman undergoing chemotherapy needs.
Further, women who lose their hair through chemotherapy generally have very tender, sensitive scalps; the harsh materials that are usually the hallmark of fashion wigs can be agonizing.
Women who buy a wig through a catalog or e-retailer face another set of problems, chief among them is not having the wig professionally fitted, which can cause malfunction issues (the wig being loose or shifting) as well as comfort problems.
One Recover with Confidence provider, Debbie Mancuso of Hair Enhancements in Pittsburgh, Pa., told of a story involving a chemotherapy patient who came to her with a wig she had bought elsewhere. “She was wearing turtlenecks all this time because her wig kept riding up and she was paranoid the back of her head would show skin … Her husband told her she walked like she had a stiff neck … This was because she was afraid to move, since it always felt as if her wig was coming off.”
Mancuso replaced the woman’s old wig with a properly fitted one. Then, “I had her stand up and turn her head over and shake it hard; she could not believe that the wig did not move. She said she couldn’t wait to go home and put a V-neck on and throw away her turtlenecks. They [the client and her husband] just left, and she was crying she was so happy.”
While the preceding story might not seem like much to the average person, for women suffering from hair loss, it describes a minor victory. Achieving one minor victory after another, for a chemotherapy patient, is what puts her on the path to “recover with confidence.”
“Since many colleagues like me have served chemotherapy patients through the years, we know the ins and outs of their needs,” said Mancuso. “It only made sense for us to educate the educators, in this case the health care providers, in what are the best choices for these women. So we hold seminars with nurses, oncologists, cancer hospital personnel, social workers — anyone involved — to do this and hopefully to extend their capability in nursing these women back to health, not just in the physical sense but in the psychological sense, as well.”
“She’s still the same person,” Mancuso summarized. But her cancer, in and of itself, makes her feel ostracized from her friends and family. The hair loss issue is emblematic of her feelings of being ostracized. It’s like visual confirmation of “I’m different now that I have cancer.”
Lest you believe that Recover with Confidence is simply a moneymaking opportunity for the hair replacement studios and salons that are its participants, you should know about its altruistic side.
There’s the case of 13-year-old Melissa, who came to the attention of Bobbi Russell’s Hair Therapy for Women in Tampa, Fla., through a social worker from All Children’s Hospital, in St. Petersburg. Said Melissa, “When they came to the hospital to talk to me about getting a wig and that it would be done at no charge, my dream came true. It’s very hard being a teenage girl and losing your hair.” Her mother, Jo, added, “Melissa looks beautiful, and what a great start to gaining back her confidence and self-esteem after chemo. Thank you so much. You all have blessed our lives.”
The Recover with Confidence movement is growing throughout the country in cities large and small. If it’s not in your locality right now, it will be soon. More importantly, if you’d like to learn more or if you actually know of someone who could benefit from this service, visit www.recoverwithconfidence.com.