For many patients undergoing treatment, it’s difficult to shake this cultural and personal attachment to our hair, so experiencing hair loss may be difficult. “Hair loss can be a very emotional experience for patients going through chemotherapy or radiation,” says VINCENT FABI owner of The Wig Gallery of Wethersfield.
The emotional impact of hair loss can correlate with a person’s self-esteem, especially if her self-worth has been based on physical attractiveness. If that’s the case, the person may have a more difficult adjustment. Specifically, “Patients may express concern about rejection in a relationship due to all of the physical changes in their appearance, and such worries can lead to anxiety.”
In addition to self-esteem issues and the potential for anxiety, clients may actually grieve the loss of their hair. “ Some clients may view their hair as their most attractive feature. “Even when that is not the case, the sense of grief and loss can be just as strong. It is a part of our body and a part of who we are.”
Also affecting people emotional response, is how prepared they are for the change. Even if they have been well educated about when to expect the loss and how it will likely occur, they may still be shocked by the reality. At this point coping strategies can play a powerful role in helping clients manage the emotional challenge they are facing.
Talking with hair stylists who are familiar with the needs of cancer patients can be very helpful, Fabi says. “With more information about the process, clients feel more in control of their world despite the hair loss itself, which is mostly out of their control.”
The use of wigs and cranial hair prostheses
For many patients, wigs and hair prosthesis — are great coping tools when hair loss occurs during treatment. The Wig Gallery of Wethersfield offers wigs and hair prostheses that are super realistic and very high in quality Fabi says he witness the full emotional impact of treatment-related hair loss Fabi believes only the most natural in apperance wigs or cranial prostheses will help clients regain their self esteem and relive some of their anxiety caused by their hair loss.
Whether 80 or 18, chemo / radiation patients want to feel good about their looks, and, for many, wigs can help. To help women find a wig that suits them, Fabi spends a lot of time educating his customers about different types of wigs and getting to know which might be a good fit—in style, ease of care, and cost.
Many different types and styles of wigs are available, ranging from custom human-hair wigs to less expensive synthetic varieties. Fabi says that synthetic wigs are the best fit for most of her customers. “Synthetic hair is easier to handle, the quality is great, and it’s much more reasonably priced,” she says.
Wig prices at The Wig Gallery of Wethersfield range from $500, to $ 3,000 depending on whether the wig is hand-tied or machine made, but he says that human-hair wigs can cost more than $2,000. Although these pricier wigs can look more natural in some cases, they require much more styling— something cancer patients often don’t have the time or energy to style this units.
Once a patient has decided between synthetic and human hair, the next step is to find a color and a style that suits her face shape and skin tone. At this stage, Fabi says, it’s helpful if clients can put aside their desire to maintain their current hairstyle and have fun experimenting with different styles and colors.
“Women often want the wig to look just like their hair, but I explain to them that it is a wig; though a wig is well colored and has highlights and lowlights, it is still a wig.” Once that reality is accepted, she says, many women find themselves loving the fresh look of a different style. “I have women who say, ‘Oh, this wig looks better than my hair did,’” she says. “If you’re willing to experiment, it can actually be a great experience.”
Even when patients have the best possible experience, shopping for wigs can still be an emotional endeavor. For this reason, Fabi suggests bringing along someone who can offer support. “I always recommend that patients bring a friend, a family member, a hair stylist, or someone who knows them well when they’re shopping for a wig.” That person can provide emotional support and can also offer insight into how the wig suits the patient’s lifestyle. “I always give them my honest opinion, but t it’s important that they bring someone with them whose opinion they trust and who can make them feel better about what they’re doing.”
Fabi sees daily the depth of the emotional response that hair loss can inspire, but he also knows the positive impact that the right wig can have. The trick, he says, is being open to the possibilities of change: “Go in with an open mind, knowing that you’ll find something that will look good.”
Hair loss during cancer treatment can present an emotional challenge because, as Fabi says, “hair loss is often viewed as a ‘stamp of sickness’ in our culture., however, that with adequate emotional support and other tools, including head-covering options, “patients can learn to reject the idea of being the ‘face of cancer.’” The fact is, “while we cannot deny the reality of cancer, we can certainly deny the things it may try to tell us about who we are and who we are not.”