Thrive by IU Health

December 14, 2020

Wigs can help cancer patients feel sense of control

Wigs can help cancer patients feel sense of control

When you combed or brushed your hair this morning, you likely didn’t think much about how it made you feel. But for patients like Elba Sanchez, who is undergoing chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer, being able to choose how her hair looks delivers a healthy sense of control.

Thanks to the CompleteLife Program at IU Health Simon Cancer Center, Sanchez feels in control again. The program supports cancer patients in non-medical ways, offering complimentary massage, yoga, music, art therapy and other services for patients and families.

Prior to the pandemic, CompleteLife offered a wig bank, where chemotherapy patients who had lost their hair could try on and get fitted for wigs. However, safety precautions forced IU Health to reimagine the wig program as a way to help patients order wigs online. Thanks to donors who give to IU Health Foundation in support of cancer care, the programs provides $25 coupons toward the online purchase of wigs.

“Losing your hair can be really devastating, even for patients who know it’s going to happen,” said Lindsay Syswerda, CompleteLife Program manager. “Being able to help a patient get a wig can make a big difference and help them feel a little bit more like themselves.”

Last January, Sanchez had just lost her father to lung cancer four weeks prior to being diagnosed with breast cancer. Since then, she’s been through surgery and started chemotherapy that will last through July 2021.

She’s experiencing many side effects and was especially sad when she lost her hair, but Sanchez prefers to focus on her blessings. She keeps a gratitude journal, which includes many thanks for her family and friends.

Despite discomfort from side effects and grief over her father’s death, Sanchez is spunky. At her daughter’s urging, she used coupons from the CompleteLife Program to help pay for two wigs. One looks like her hair did before chemo, short and brunette. But she also bought a blond wig because she wanted to try something different and make the best of a bad situation. She said, “You could say, I’m trying to make lemonade out of lemons.”

She’s planning to buy a third wig – one with long hair.

“So many things about cancer treatment are nonnegotiable, so it can feel empowering to patients to be able to decide they want to get a wig or participate in art therapy or get a massage,” said Syswerda. “It can help build self-esteem and even help with resiliency.”

In 2019, the CompleteLife Program provided wigs to 149 patients and provided 119 inpatient cosmetology services. Because the demand for CompleteLife programs is higher than ever, the hospital is committed to providing these services to help ease patients’ anxiety and stresses.

To help patients like Elba, visit the IU Health Foundation donate page, and select “Simon Cancer Center CompleteLife Program.”

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