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Just moments before she ran into Kelsey Tibbett walking the hallways of Simon Cancer Center, Quanisha Bynum had been describing a young woman who made an impression on her. She was struck by the fact that the woman was about her age and she was moved by her sense of style and will to fight.
Bynum, 21, was describing Tibbett, 24, diagnosed three months ago with leukemia.
“It was a big shock. I went to the doctor for headaches and found out I had leukemia. One of the first things I thought was ‘maybe I’ll be the lucky person who doesn’t lose her hair,’” said Tibbett, a Lafayette resident. But when her thick brown hair began falling out in clumps and she was left with bald patches, she decided to shave what remained.
“Her hair was her thing. It was long, straight and dark brown, but she liked to color it every color under the sun,” said her mom, Michelle Tibbett.
Not long after she lost her hair, Kelsey Tibbett met Bynum, who began working at IU Health University Hospital last December when the Cancer Resource Center opened its new wig bank. Since then, the Cancer Resource Center has helped fit patients with more than 100 wigs.
Bynum gets referrals from nurses and other staff members and then makes a personal visit to patients first starting with a consultation. She also trims hair for both men and women.
“I usually ask them what sort of style, color and length they are looking for and then I start looking in our collection,” said Bynum. The wigs come already styled but she often does a little trim here or there to make them look more natural.
“Most ladies choose something similar to their real hair. They don’t want anything that’s going to stand out,” said Bynum. She gets that. When she was younger, she remembers her grandmother battling cancer. “She never wanted us to know and now I get it. A lot of the patients don’t want the attention on their hair,” said Bynum.
But style is what drew her to Tibbett. Like Bynum – who enjoys experimenting with trends and color – Tibbett traded her straight brown locks for a curly red wig.
“I like your hair,” Tibbett said recently of Bynum’s blue braids. “I like your hair too,” Bynum responded. The two women then launched into a conversation about nail polish, make up and accessories.
It was a familiar language to Bynum and one that she uses to relate to patients.
Two weeks after her graduation from Ben Davis High School Bynum enrolled in Regency Beauty Institute and graduated a month early based on her outstanding academics and attendance. She then obtained her esthetics license. Her training includes hair, make up, waxing, nails and microdermabrasion.
She started at IU Health as a volunteer delivering mail to patients and assisting guests with directions. When a position opened up at the wig bank, she jumped at the opportunity. She works Mondays and Wednesdays at the Cancer Resource Center and also works at an outside salon.
“Most of my time is spent with female patients but there are men who want a trim or a shave. We don’t have wigs for men yet so I give them hats and beanies,” said Bynum. “I love what I’m doing. Sometimes when I tell people about my job with the wig bank, they say ‘that is so cool.’ I guess I don’t realize how much it means to people until I see them put on the wig and smile.”
-- By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Banes via email at T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.