Using Wigs to Cope With Hair Loss - A Personal Story

by Rhonda

My Wig Story (2001)

18 years ago, as a newly-diagnosed Non-hodgkin's lymphoma patient, I sat in the lobby of a beauty salon and fought back the tears. The ad in the phone book called the place a wig specialty center, but even to me, a 19-year old college sophomore, something in the advertising was totally wrong. For my consultation, I was placed in the salon's lobby in full view of all the "normal" clients. My straight, shoulder-length, almost black hair had just begun to fall out a couple of days before, so I was understandably self-conscious. Then the attendant brought out a tiny mirror and several wigs, all curly and short, with medium to light brown hair.

Before I could ask questions about differences of style and color, she disappeared to leave my mom and me alone with the wigs. I tried one or two on, not knowing what to do with my remaining hair, feeling like a clown. After unsuccessful attempts to get them on properly, I noticed the attendant making a bee-line for us, drawing the attention of everyone else in the shop. She seemed almost haughty as she helped. She let me know immediately that there were no other styles, and that I'd better just go on and make up my mind.

I pulled off the wig I was trying on and tried not to cry. I told my mom I needed more time to think about it, and we left. I remember walking out the door hoping that the chemo wouldn't take all of my hair. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, and I soon realized that I needed to think about wigs again. It was also November, and I was starting to lose a lot of heat through my head. My mom found the name of another salon, and I promised myself I'd at least give it a chance. I'm glad did.

Inside the salon, wig clients were shown to a totally separate and private room with large mirrors at different angles for better viewing. There were over a hundred wigs to try on, hair samples for perfect matching, and gobs of magazines with so many different styles I thought I was in wig heaven. Best of all, the attendant stayed with us through the entire session, answered every question we had, and educated us about every aspect of wig care. The result was a wig that looked so much like my own hair many people didn't know I wore one. A couple of people asked if I had gotten a trim, but were surprised when they later found out the truth.

I never laughed so hard as I did several years and wig-styles later. It was April, and I was teaching at a local high school. The chemo had stopped (FINALLY!!!) that February, and my hair had begun to grow back in. When the hair was about 3/4 of an inch long, I decided that my wig days were over. The first day sans-wig at school, one boy stared, wide-eyed. "Cool," he said, "I've got a punk teacher!" Throughout the whole year, he'd had no idea.

A few helpful things I learned about wigs:

  • The first step is finding a good salon. Shop around. Be picky.
  • Modern wigs have adjustable straps inside for a good fit. Cartwheels are even possible. Getting used to a wig on your head is kind of like getting used to glasses--at first, you might have headaches for a day or two. Lots of wigs now have fabric sewn in that looks like real scalp. The result? Parting your hair is an option.
  • Wigs can be hot in the summertime, but they do conserve body heat in the colder months.
  • Wigs can come with gray hairs.
  • Synthetic wigs are tons easier to deal with. I used to wash mine in the sink and hang it up like pantyhose. Also, I only had to curl it once a week or so--if I wanted to.
  • Having a spare is a good idea, especially when your other wig is hanging up with the pantyhose.
  • Never use curling irons on synthetic wigs, they'll melt. (Hot rollers are ok, but check with the individual manufacturer.) On a hot day, hot rollers aren't a problem; just roll the wig, take it off to cool, and put it back on later.
  • Take time to experiment with your wig when you first get it. I had the hardest time finding my natural hairline once all my hair fell out because I couldn't tell where it was. I look back on photos and cringe. Most of the time I was doing my Queen Elizabeth I impression with the high forehead. Other times I looked like a Cro-Magnon woman. Practice!
  • Try to have a sense of humor about the wig. It is going to slip. It is going to sit crooked. If you know any babies, they will pull it off.
  • People usually feel uncomfortable about the whole subject of cancer, so if you can show them that it's ok to laugh a little, you both will feel better. (By the way, my family didn't have any problem laughing at me or my wig, but friends and acquaintances didn't know me as well and were more cautious).

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