Dealing with Hair Loss (Part 2) –

Once I learned that I had the option to have a wig made from my own hair, I immediately jumped into project mode.  Who do I need to talk to?  How do I make this happen?  Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!  The clock is ticking towards midnight and Cinderella is going to be bald soon!

I made an appointment for a consultation with the wigmaker recommended by my oncologist’s physician assistant.   The wigmaker was very pleasant on the phone.  And calm.  I started to breathe more easily.  A calm wigmaker was exactly what I needed.

When I arrived for my consultation, I took in my surroundings as I sat in the waiting area.  When I was in my 20s I worked with a theatre company in Boston.  The wigmaker’s studio evoked memories of being backstage before a show.  Waiting to meet the wigmaker inspired a similar type of anticipatory anxiety as waiting for the curtain to drop and the show to begin.

Chairs sat in front of large lighted mirrors.  Various hair-related props, such as brushes, clips and scissors were strewn across each vanity.  I felt a certain kinship with the bald styrofoam mannequin heads, who seemed to be patiently waiting for hair.

I was scrolling through a photo album of smiling women proudly wearing what I assumed to be their new, real “fake” hair, when the wigmaker introduced himself and invited me to sit in one of the chairs.

I prepared to launch into “Christine’s Cancer Story,” but the wigmaker jumped right in and began explaining his work and process.  I was grateful to hear someone else’s story, especially one I found to be quite interesting.

The wigmaker learned the art of wig making from his father, who was born and raised in Europe.  When they set up their business in Seattle several decades earlier, most of their wig creations were for the entertainment industry, especially theatre productions, for which they lovingly made each wig by hand.

In the 1980s, the art of wig making became a casualty of the rapid proliferation of China-based product manufacturing.  Handmade wigs were now being made by machines, with synthetic fibers rather than real hair.

When the wigmaker and his father realized they would need to change the focus of their business, a seed for a new target audience had already been planted.  During the period of custom wig work for theatrical productions, they would receive an occasional request to create a wig for someone, typically a woman, who was undergoing cancer treatment.

Sadly, as the requests for custom wigs for the entertainment industry decreased, requests for wigs for cancer patients increased significantly.  The wigmaker and his father embraced this opportunity and adapted their business to provide wig making expertise and emotional support for people suffering from hair loss due to medical treatment.

Once again, I was reminded that there are indeed angels who walk this earth.

I knew I was in the right place.  I was due to start losing my hair within the next two weeks, so I asked the wigmaker to explain what the immediate next steps would be.

Will you shave my head? I asked.

No, the wigmaker replied, I will cut your hair section by section, so I will have an exact model of your head and current hairstyle, which I will use to create the wig.  I will leave about a ¼ inch of hair around your head, so your wig length will be a little shorter than your current hair length.

I ran my hand through my hair thinking about the GI Jane-inspired haircut I would have soon.

How long will it take you to create my wig? I asked.

24 hours, he said.

I was shocked.  I assumed I misunderstood what he said.

You can have my wig done in 24 hours? I asked incredulously.

The wigmaker smiled with pride and said, Yes, it will only take 24 hours.  We have our process down to a science and we also know how important it is to create a wig quickly for people going through cancer treatment.  You have enough to worry about and we don’t want your wig to be a source of stress. 

This was going so much better than I could have hoped.

My fear was now replaced by pragmatism.

How long will the wig last, I asked?

How long is your treatment? he inquired.

My treatment will last about five months, I replied.

Oh, your wig will definitely get you through treatment, the wigmaker said with confidence.

Well, here’s the thing, I interjected.  I will need to wear the wig for at least a year or until I have a short bob to my ear, whichever comes first.

The wigmaker smiled.  I had the sense that I was not the first Type A woman to have sat in his chair.

He spoke to me as if he were sharing a secret.

You may not believe this now, but there will come a moment when you will look in the mirror, see your reflection and realize that not having hair is your new normal.  You will get used to it.  And in my experience, the minute your hair starts to grow back, you will be so excited that any preconceived ideas about how “long” your hair needs to be before sharing your new look with the world, will disappear. 

I thought about this for a moment, wondering if I truly had the confidence to rock a post-chemo Pat Benatar hairstyle.  I wasn’t sure, but considering that in less than an hour my wigmaker had basically become my therapist, I was open to the idea.

As the consultation ended, I asked the wigmaker one more question.

Why doesn’t everyone do this?  Why wouldn’t everyone go the custom wig route?

Well, there aren’t a lot of custom wigmakers left, he said.  It takes some research to find one.  And depending on how quickly a person accepts their diagnosis typically dictates whether this approach is their best option. 

I wasn’t exactly sure where I was in the process of accepting my diagnosis, but I was certainly happy that a custom wig was part of my plan.

Following my consultation, I met a friend for dinner at a nearby restaurant.  I reenacted my shocked response to the news that my wigmaker would deliver my custom wig in less time than Amazon Prime.  We toasted my good fortune.

I excused myself to use the ladies room, which upon entry, I realized was empty.  I put my purse on the sink and without any trace of self-consciousness, I surveyed my reflection in the mirror.  I thought about how much I loved my hair.  I always have—ever since childhood.

In recent weeks, most of my tears were due to fear that I was going to lose my hair.  As I continued to take in my reflection, once again, tears began to form. This time, the tears were not based in fear, but rather in relief, knowing that regardless of what may lie ahead for me, I was going to have my hair.

EDITOR’S NOTE: When I started writing on the topic of hair loss due to cancer treatment, I planned for it to be a two-part series.   However, in writing this week’s essay, I have concluded that this topic is most definitely a trilogy.  Therefore, part three, the “Return of the Jedi” equivalent of this series will post next Tuesday, July 17.  As always, I appreciate your following along with the story and would love to hear your thoughts and feedback.  

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