By Barbara Anne Kirshner
Hair … It is our crown.
We spend billions of dollars coiffing it.
We have it shaped, colored, highlighted, blown out, straightened, curled, and conditioned.
But what happens when our crowning jewel is threatened?
Too many hear a doctor sympathetically announce, “I’m sorry, but you have cancer.”
After that frightening diagnosis is flung into the air, what is the treatment? Many are forced to undergo the next Big-C Word-Chemotherapy.
Chemo’s harsh attack is the common choice for killing cancer and keeping it from spreading, but in so doing, it ravages the body and those once-prized locks fall out in clumps.
This shocking side effect of chemo compounds the tragedy of the cancer diagnosis.
What recourse does one have when that cherished mane disappears? Some resort to simple scarves wrapped around the now bare head or big picture hats, but there is another solution; a solution that will build the morale as it resurrects that once bounteous coif.
That’s where technicians, like my sister Judy, come into play. She works in hair replacement. Many of the people she sees each day are facing the greatest battle of their lives against the Big-C. These people are starved for a sense of normalcy. They long to look in a mirror and see their former selves before cancer took control of their lives. These valiant warriors reject disappearing until treatment is over. This is a motivating factor in seeking out someone like my sister.
I never thought about my sister’s profession. I knew what she did and figured that we both chose people-oriented careers (I am a teacher). But I never really considered what my sister did for the morale of people until I saw how she helped a dear friend of mine who was diagnosed with cancer.
The treatment for my friend was aggressive chemo. She was admitted to the hospital for a week each month and hooked up to constant chemo. This left her depleted of all energy and feeling terribly nauseous. Her hair that she had always been meticulous about started falling out.
Prior to cancer, she had it regularly colored with highlights added. She wore it straight, shoulder-length and for summers added a Brazilian treatment. She lamented the effects of chemo, particularly the loss of her hair. She told me that she might get a wig, because she wanted to return to work. That’s when I suggested she see my sister.
With hope in her heart, she made an appointment at the hair replacement shop where my sister works, The Riviera in Syosset. She was greeted by Jack, the owner of the shop. His understanding immediately comforted her. He asked her for a photo so he had some idea of her preferred hairstyle.
When the wig was delivered, my sister went to work on her. The moment my sister replaced the bald head with luscious tresses the emotion set in. My friend dissolved in tears of joy, the first happiness that she had experienced since that dire diagnosis. She was immediately impressed by my sister’s gentle nature and care.
My friend’s confidence returned with the return of her hair. She went back to work with her upbeat nature intact.
Her emotional transformation made me realize the very special and delicate work my sister does every day with people like my friend who long for life before cancer. My sister rebuilds self-esteem; such a priceless gift.
I am thrilled to report that my friend is now cancer free and her natural hair has grown back. She has developed a bond with my sister, thankful for the return of her confidence that came at such a crucial time.
This close-up look has given me a better insight and appreciation for what Judy does every day for countless cancer patients and I’m bursting with pride that she is my sister.
Miller Place resident Barbara Anne Kirshner is a freelance journalist, playwright and author of “Madison Weatherbee —The Different Dachshund.”