Contrary to popular belief, breast cancer doesn’t necessarily mean that you will lose your hair, that you will be flat as a board, or look any different than you do today. If you are lucky, and only require a lumpectomy and nothing else, you may only have a couple of scars and maybe some dimpling in the affected breast. I had a double mastectomy, and I opted for immediate reconstruction, which meant the reconstruction process began the moment the breast surgeon removed the breast tissue from below the skin, most people who look at me at first glance can’t even tell anything is different.
But you may, like me, find that you don’t think you’ll have to deal with chemotherapy, but the pathology and further testing of the cancer calls removed may prove that chemotherapy is still prescribed. A lot gets taken into consideration behind this decision that you and your oncologist will discuss. It may have to do with the aggressive nature of your cancer, likelihood of it spreading, age, health and lifestyle before the cancer, Oncotype scores, and other factors.
A few tips when it comes to picking out wigs that I’ve gathered from the amazing women and volunteers at the organizations listed below, friends, survivors and others:
- Talk to your insurance company before you even start looking at wigs. Some insurance companies will reimburse you fully, others will not. Ask if there are deductibles, or limits.
- Get a prescription for a “full hair prosthesis” from your oncologist. Some wig shops will accept the prescription and bill your insurance directly, others may not. However, you will need that prescription before you purchase your wig for insurance purposes.
- Go wig shopping before you lose your hair. This will give you, and those assisting you, an idea of what you look like with your hair to help you find a wig to match your natural hair.
- If you do go before you lose your hair, understand that the wig will fit you differently once you are bald.
- Go with a friend, family member or someone whose opinion you respect. Sometimes, you may find that the best wig for you may not match your real hair.
- For those of us with curly hair, given some of the maintenance issues and tendency for wigs to tangle, consider a straight wig or a wig with a slight wave.
- While bangs can cover our foreheads and brows to help hide the fact that we’ve lost our eyebrows, consider that our facial skin may be more sensitive due to the chemotherapy, and the fringe may irritate your eyebrow area. Don’t avoid bangs, but carefully consider and feel how the bangs fall on your head.
- If you have pale skin, a light wig may help hide the fact that you’ve lost your eyebrows. The lighter the hair color, the less likely you’d have dark eyebrows.
- Opt for synthetic hair vs. real hair. Not only will that reduce cost, but the maintenance needed is much simpler. And, given the technology and wig makers today, there isn’t much difference between the two. They are also lighter and more comfortable.
- Try on wigs in hair styles you’d never consider with your natural hair! Use trying on wigs as your time to experiment. Who knows? You may find a new style that you’ll try once your hair grows back!
- Play! Get a wig that is your dream hairstyle! Always wanted to be a platinum blonde? Now’s your chance! Always wanted to be a red head? Go for it!
- Listen to the stylist helping you. They have the most experience with wigs.
- Expect to spend anywhere between $150 and $400 for a good wig.
- Avoid “costume” wigs. These wigs are good for Halloween, costume parties, or the occasional evening of intrigue with a special friend. Not to wear for an entire day. The manner in which they are constructed are not comfortable for wearing for hours, or against a bald head.
- Get wig stands. Don’t leave the wigs in the box or use a mannequin head. The wig stands are made to allow the hair and wig to breathe and hold their shape. Mannequin heads and other solid stands will not allow the hair, nor the lacing, to air out after wear.
- Pay attention to the wig’s care instructions. Some wigs can withstand heat, others cannot. You don’t want to accidentally melt your new ‘do!
- Ask the shop/salon you are going to if they accept insurance. If not, they will give you a receipt that you should be able to submit to your insurance company.
- See if styling the wig is included with the purchase. Some wig shops have arrangements with local stylists to include a free, or discounted, wig styling appointment with the purchase of a wig for chemotherapy. If not, call your local salons if they offer special discounts for chemotherapy patients’ stylings.
- Do not get your wig styled until you have lost your hair! When you have hair, the wig sits differently on your head. Getting it styled beforehand can result in a permanent bad hair day!
Resources for free wigs for women who qualify:
- American Cancer Society: http://www.cancer.org/treatment/supportprogramsservices/app/Resource-Detail.aspx?resourceId=36440
This was the first organization that I contacted regarding a wig. The ACS locations have a vast selection of wigs to choose from, and a staff member will help you find a wig to suit you from what they have in-stock. Bear in mind that you need to go to the local ACS office (in Westchester County, it is in White Plains – be prepared to bring quarters for parking!). I, personally, was really impressed with the variety of high-quality wigs, brand new and lightly used (but sanitary) that were available to choose from.
- Y-Me National Breast Cancer Organization Free Wig & Prosthesis Bank: http://www.y-me.org/programs/wig-prosthesis-bank.php
In addition to offering the products, Y-ME offers wig care and styling tips, along with 24/7 support. Affiliates throughout the country facilitate local Wig & Prosthesis Banks, often with salons where women can try on items before taking them home. If a salon or Y-ME affiliate is not in your area, you can tell them your hair color and length, and they will try and find a wig that suits you. Unfortunately, in my case, there wasn’t a wig in stock, as they are dependent entirely on donated wigs and what they have in hand at the time. However, they are quick to provide additional sources for wigs for those going through chemotherapy! Y-ME is able to provide all programs and services free of charge. Call the YourShoes 24/7 Breast Cancer Support Center at 1-800-221-2141 to speak with a peer counselor about receiving a wig or prosthesis, and learn more about selecting and wearing a wig or prosthesis.
- Crickett’s Answer for Cancer: http://www.crickettsanswerforcancer.org
Crickett’s Answer for Cancer is a registered 501 (c)(3) breast cancer non-profit, providing cost-free wigs, mastectomy and lymphedema products, and pampering services nationwide to women with breast cancer. The story behind Crickett’s is very simple: A mother’s love for a daughter who lost her gloriously thick, curly head of hair, and her life, to cancer at too early an age. There are many organizations out there to provide support for women fighting breast cancer, but Crickett’s touched me deeply. Bonnie Julius, Crickett’s mother and founder of the non-profit, took so much care and time speaking with me over the phone and online to make sure that I found a wig that made me happy that it was clear that she “adopts” each of us 400 women that have been helped as her own daughter during the time she has with us. I don’t ordinarily ask in this blog for donations on behalf of an organization, but if you have wanted to give to an organization that makes an impact to women fighting breast cancer, this small, but effective non-profit, needs help.
You see, Bonnie doesn’t collect used wigs or donated wigs. She works with Wigs.com to allow the cancer fighter to choose their own wig. There is a budget involved, but it’s a generous budget. And she gives fantastic advice about how to treat your scalp, what to and what not to do, materials, wig types, etc. None of their officers, committee members, or volunteers receive any remuneration.
Crickett’s Answer for Cancer has assisted approximately 175 women through the end of September so far this year and a total of approximately 400 clients during our 3 years of being a non-profit. In order to do that, of course, Bonnie and the others at Crickett’s need funds to pay for these wigs.