Volunteers and clients alike are hoping to get the word out about the Wig Lending Program at the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS).
The service offers high-quality wigs for cancer patients, at no cost and with a large variety of options. One client, Kathy Potters, said the program has helped her through a difficult time.
“I’ve had a really hard time with this. I still can’t believe it – but it’s here,” Potters said, referring to her diagnosis.
“The first time you come in, you’re very, very nervous. It’s a whole new experience. It’s scary because it means cancer.”
She offered a bit of advice to potential clients.
“What you do is bring somebody with you – a family member – and the girls here are really good. Once I found out it was here, and that all the wigs are clean, I couldn’t get over the number of wigs they have here. There’s human hair and the synthetic ones, and they all wash beautifully.”
Potters found out about the Wig Lending Program through a separate Cancer Society program called Look Good, Feel Better. She said at first she was hesitant about the hygienic factor of wigs, but soon became at ease with the help of the friendly staff at the CCS.
One of those friendly staff members is Carol Ann Menezes, whose job is to give the clients a positive experience and make them feel confident when they leave the building.
“I like to make it fun for the women. I’ve welcomed people near or in tears and we’ve sent them home happy and confident and ready to face the world. I make it like a fashion show for them and we try all sorts of wigs on,” Menezes said.
“There was a little elderly lady who came in and said, ‘My husband wants me to go red!’ and we have a huge, red wig and we put that on her and took a photo. We sent it to him and she went home with a little grey wig. We had so much fun with it,” she laughed.
Right now, the Canadian Cancer Society is looking for a volunteer to assist with the wig bank. Menezes said their regular volunteer is on leave until April and that they could really use the help.
As well, she said she wished more people knew about and accessed the program.
“We’ve given out about 100 wigs this year. The thing is many people don’t know about our wig bank, and they only hear about it through word of mouth or maybe at the hospital. We’re really trying to spread the word that we’re here,” she said.
“If you buy a wig privately, it can be between $300-$600. And when you’re going through cancer, not a lot of people have that money. It is expensive to get treatment and medication. Just to buy a wig is so expensive, so I’m really proud that we can actually offer this service.”
All of the wigs are free and are donated to the local CCS branch. The wigs are a collection of both synthetic and natural human hair. All of the hair that is donated is sent to Ontario to be sterilized and styled by the Pantene Beautiful Lengths program. The wigs are then donated back to the organization, and sent across Canada for women like Potters.
“We also give away toques and scarves. It’s all by donation. People take what they need for as long as they need it, and usually bring it back,” said Menezes.
“We wash everything thoroughly and make it hygienic for someone else. We take good care of it and put it back on the shelves. It gives people the confidence to face the world again. Some of our clients are really attached to their hair, and love it. For them to lose it is devastating. We’ve had a good few tears in that room, but we get to send people home smiling. It’s a very rewarding program.”
Each client receives information they can take home to properly clean and take care of the wigs. Volunteers like Menezes are available to help at every step of the emotional process and for any questions one might have.
Potters said the wig bank has helped her deal with a stage-four diagnosis of both liver and lung cancer.
“I’ve just gone off my pill for chemotherapy. I took it everyday for seven months and I had terrible, terrible side effects. Two weeks ago I decided that how the CAT scan turned out would be my decision as to whether I carry on with it or not. the CAT scan showed that the tumor on my liver has grown,” she shared quietly.
“For the next six weeks, I just want to have a life. It’s not the same as your own hair but it helps.”
The program is open to clients in need by booking an appointment with the Canadian Cancer Society, located on 52nd Ave. Call 403-347-3662 for more information.