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Archive for Saturday, May 22, 1999

WOMEN HELP CANCER PATIENTS FIND THE RIGHT WIG

May 22, 1999

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Two women at Vanity Beauty Shop volunteer their expertise for the American Cancer Society's Looking Good " Feeling Better program.

Just last week, Delaine Stalkfleet said, a client sat in her chair at Vanity Beauty Shop in tears.

The cancer patient was convinced that the wig in front of her would never look like her own hair. Stalkfleet talked to her for a minute and then set to work. She slipped the wig on the client, and began clipping and combing. She sent the woman off with a smile.

"She had a big smile because it looked like her hair," said Willadean Haller, another cosmetologists at the shop.

That's the reason Stalkfleet and Haller became certified in the American Cancer Society's Looking Good " Feeling Better program.

Helping with hair

Haller and Stalkfleet, whose shop is at 846 Ill., are the only cosmetologists in Lawrence who take part in the program. They help cancer patients pick out wigs, style them so they match the women's own hair, and wash and care for the wigs for free.

The two started out just helping clients undergoing chemotherapy find the right wig.

"These are people whose hair we'd done for years." Stalkfleet said. "I know their kids; I know their grandkids; I know their birthdays."

They are family, she said, and she wanted to help them. About a year ago, though, the two took the ACS training for the program and have begun helping cancer patients across Lawrence.

"This is a community service," Haller said.

The two said they don't have a lot of time for volunteering, but this is something they can do at work to help others. The two don't charge for their services.

"Expenses are so high when (cancer patients) going through this, anyway," Stalkfleet said.

Washing wigs can be tricky. The wigs have to be soaked in special shampoo, rinsed with cold water and then carefully dried on frames. Synthetic wigs are pre-styled.

"If you try to comb them when they're wet, it ruins the pattern," Stalkfleet said.

Back to normal

The ACS Looking Good " Feeling Better program helps women undergoing cancer treatment cope with the appearance side-effects -- hair loss, complexion changes.

"You feel really bad anyway," Stalkfleet said. "If you think you look bad, that even drags you down further."

Members of the National Cosmetology Assn. volunteer their time to teach patients about skin care and makeup and to show them how to disguise hair loss.

"Your skin changes," Stalkfleet said, so the two counsel women to be sure to use moisturizer.

They encourage them to wear makeup, even if they don't normally -- being sick all day can make someone look a bit tired and drawn. They also show women how to use eyebrow pencils, in case they lose their eyebrows, too. The idea is to make patients look as normal as possible.

That goes for the wigs as well.

"Most people want it as close to normal as they can get," Haller said.

The cosmetologists fit the wig and show the patients how to put them on.

"We try to keep things as simple as possible," she said. The wigs are trimmed and styled on the clients to get them just right.

Women who can afford new wigs can order two or three, matched closely to their own hair, for convenience. For those who can't afford the $25 to $200 price of a wig, the ACS has a wig bank full of wigs donated by women who no longer need them.

Coping with trauma

Penny Powell made an appointment with Haller the day after her first chemotherapy appointment. Haller worked hard to find something to match Powell's fair tresses. She finally found a wig in Topeka that would work.

"I left that same day with a wig," Powell said. "She didn't want me to leave without something."

Powell said her husband once told her in 29 years of marriage, he hadn't seen her blond hair mussed. That was until she was diagnosed with lung cancer in April.

She began chemotherapy and started losing the blond strands. While her 3-year-old grandson said he liked her new shaved do -- "I have a fairly good-looking head," -- losing her hair was a shock, she said.

"It's a pretty traumatic experience," she said. "There's nothing you can do about it. I found myself not brushing it very much, hoping that if I didn't brush it, it wouldn't fall out. " It falls out anyway."

Even though a wig can be a bit hot, it's much better than being bald, Powell said.

"If I did not have a wig, I probably would not go out of the house," she said. "" People can be cruel."

Laughter and tears

Haller and Stalkfleet say they want to lighten patients' burden, if only a little.

"This is something I can do," Stalkfleet said.

The two said they are often amazed at the strength shown by the women they help. Haller remembered working with a longtime client, a woman whom she had seen for 40 years, as the client lost her hair. As Haller washed the woman's hair, it was coming out in handfuls. Haller said she was near tears with hair in her hands when the woman looked in the mirror.

"She starts laughing and said 'I look like Beetlejuice,'" Haller said. "That made everything OK."

Some of their stories end sadly.

"You're helping these people through a crisis, knowing full well " some of them are terminal," Stalkfleet said. She even styles wigs for funerals.

"It's the last thing you can do for that person," she said.

A better end, though, is a haircut.

"That's always really great, when they have to come in for their first hair cut," Stalkfleet said.

If the patients want to, they can give their wigs to Stalkfleet and Haller for the wig bank.

"We clean them and have them ready for someone who needs them," Haller said.

-- Felicia Haynes' phone message number is 832-7173. Her e-mail address is fhaynes@ljworld.com.

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