EBeauty’s Wig Exchange Program launches their newest free wig campaign to cancer patients, #JourneyOfAWig. Over the next six weeks, the program will feature a number of generous wig donors who were kind enough to share their stories. Each story is written by a wig donor as a letter addressed to a future EBeauty wig recipient.
EBeauty’s Wig Exchange Program seeks to help every cancer patient gain access to a quality wig for free. It’s a simple process that has a powerful impact – women who have completed cancer treatments donate their used wigs, which are then refurbished and distributed, free of charge, to a woman undergoing treatment. Their goal is to provide access to all women, regardless of their financial resources or location to help sustain and restore their self-image and confidence during cancer treatments.
At their facility in Washington DC, EBeauty’s Wig Exchange Program receive hundreds of wigs per week from all over the country. These wigs are gifted by survivors, husbands, children, sisters and friends who want to help support another woman on her journey.
EBeauty is honored to share the stories of each participant as we follow each #JourneyOfAWig. Below is the 1st in the series of letters written by donors and survivor Karyn.
I say “you” because you’re probably feeling not very much like “you” and only like “The Patient” these days. I remember that feeling and wondering “When will I feel like ME again?” I promise, it will happen, and it won’t take as long as you think.
In 2012, just a few months after my 40th birthday, I was diagnosed with stage 2B breast cancer. A mastectomy followed, then four months of chemo. I asked my oncologist “Will I lose my hair?” “Yes.” She didn’t even pretend there was a chance I could keep my long curly dark hair. And honestly, I didn’t really mind – as you find out very quickly when facing cancer, the world sorts itself out into important and unimportant fairly quickly, and for me, the hair was the least of my worries.
The week before my first chemo infusion, I got my hair cut short and dyed a funky color. I figured that I’d feel better about losing my hair if it wasn’t “my” hair – this short red hair wasn’t really mine, so it was ok if I lost it. And just a couple of weeks later, that short red hair started coming out by the handful.
My biggest concern during treatment, aside from my health, was my job. My contract was scheduled to end right in the middle of chemo, so it was very, very important to me that I not look sick at work. Fortunately, I had a manager who didn’t care if I worked remotely and didn’t ask questions about my needing a day off every two weeks. But when I needed to be in the office, I had to look “normal”. I found that people don’t look that closely when everything seems normal at the surface level- a flattering wig and some well-drawn eyebrows go a long way! I even got compliments on my “hair” from total strangers. In the end, the company offered me a full time job, and I’m still with them six years later.
I had two wigs. One was a beautiful, real hair wig given to me a by a friend who had had lymphoma. The other was a very nice synthetic hair wig that my mom and I purchased when my friend’s wig didn’t turn out to be particularly flattering on me. How not flattering was it? When my mom came to town for my first infusion, we happened to get to my street corner at the same time. I’d been wearing the wig since I cut my hair short but my mom hadn’t yet seen it. As she waited at the crosswalk, I walked up to her and said “Hi!” She looked at me blankly. My own mother hadn’t recognized me! Time for a different wig.
In 2017, on my 5-year “chemoversary”, I donated the two wigs to EBeauty. Why did I wait so long? Well, like many patients, I had a fairly complicated relationship with my wigs. On the one hand, they allowed me to retain some semblance of normality during an extremely un-normal time in my life. On the other hand, they were a constant reminder of that time after it was over. They took up physical space in my closet, and even more mental space in my head, but I couldn’t get rid of them because of that lingering fear that I might need them again. Cancer is sneaky that way – no matter what the stats and odds are, you never really know whether you’re part of the group for whom the cancer won’t come back. All you ever know is that it hasn’t happened YET.
So the wigs sat on their styrofoam heads in my closet for a year. And another year. And I eventually stopped tracking every anniversary of every date associated with my diagnosis, surgery, chemo, reconstruction, etc. When I realized that it had been 5 years since chemo ended and I hadn’t even mentally marked the date, I knew it finally was time to move on. I got online, found EBeauty, and donated both wigs the next day.
If you received one of my wigs: I hope they help you feel a little normalcy in the months to come, and I hope that you can feel the good vibes I’m sending your way. I hope that you keep putting one foot in front of the other, making the next doctor appointment, and taking the next pill, because that’s all you can do right now. I hope you get some humor out of how blasé you’ll become about people prodding your breasts, because it really is kind of funny, at least in retrospect. Most of all, I hope that you have the opportunity to donate your wigs too when you’re on the other side of all this cancer stuff, and instead of looking backwards with fear, you’ll be looking forward with anticipation.
If you are inspired like us, please consider making a donation in honor of survivors like Karyn and the women who she will be supporting on her own journey. Visit www.ebeauty.com