Barbara Vivolo stands in her new wig salon. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

A Hauppauge breast cancer survivor is hoping to turn her experience into a new business to help others feel good about themselves.

Barbara Vivolo opened Barbara’s Hair Studio in September, a custom wig salon with the aim to help women diagnosed with cancer and other illnesses resulting in hair loss. The shop, opening days before October, which marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month, is fortuitous for Vivolo — who prefers to call herself a “thriver” rather than a survivor.

“I asked myself how can I make them go from survivors to thrivers?” Vivolo said. “To become thrivers we have to move forward together.”

Barbara Vivolo wears a pink wig at a breast cancer charity kickoff event. Photo from Facebook

Vivolo is a trained cosmetologist with more than 30 years experience, whose life dramatically changed when her mother and aunt were both diagnosed with breast cancer within the same week.

“My aunt was a hairdresser too, and she was always my inspiration to become a hairdresser when I was young,” Vivolo said. “We worked together for years.”

Her aunt, Phyllis Borek, lost her hair while undergoing chemotherapy treatments, which led Vivolo to her first time visiting a wig salon on the hunt for the perfect do.

“My aunt was funny with her wigs and we had a good time,” she said. “She was all, ‘Oh, now I can be the perfect redhead or I can be the perfect blond.’ One week it was short, then long. She really rocked it.”

Vivolo also started picking out wigs to ship to her mother in Florida, who continued working through her cancer treatments, often first painstakingly custom cutting and coloring the wigs.

Vivolo was shocked upon being diagnosed with ER-positive ductal carcinoma, breast cancer whose growth is affected by the hormone estrogen, at age 40. With three young children, she made the difficult choice to undergo a double mastectomy with reconstructive surgery.

While undergoing her procedures, the hairdresser said she found it difficult to relax and heal without planning for the future and began writing in a composition notebook simply labeled “wig salon.”

“My husband would watch me write in this book every day, thinking about opening up a wig salon,” Vivolo said.

One composition notebook full of dreams and business ideas was quickly filled, then another, as Vivolo was more focused on raising her family.

“I prayed to my mother and my aunt that if I was going to open this salon, a wig salon to help women with cancer, I needed to win this money. When I found out I did, I sat there and cried.”

— Barbara Vivolo

In March 2016, Vivolo made the decision she would move forward. She wanted to offer cancer patients and women affected by hair loss a personal one-on-one experience where they could feel safe and supported during the process of selecting their first wig.

“It’s a awful lot to swallow,” she said.

Vivolo said she experienced “divine intervention” when attending a breast cancer event last October.

“I prayed to my mother and my aunt that if I was going to open this salon, a wig salon to help women with cancer, I needed to win this money,” she said. “When I found out I did, I sat there and cried.”

The hairdresser had won approximately $1,000 in a 50/50 raffle, which she then used to pay for her first shipment of wigs.

Now, she’s got a private one-chair hair studio where clients, one at a time, can come in and go through the process of being shaved, selecting their wig and have it custom colored and cut. The wigs range in price from $200 to more than $1,000, synthetic to made with human hair. While going through the process, Vivolo said she often answers questions about her personal experience and offers support as a certified health and life coach.

“They can see my end results, while they are in the beginning phases [of treatment],” Vivolo said. “I say to them, ‘Let me hold your hand and walk through this with you.’”

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