Most Viewed Stories
Women cancer patients get help with hair, dignity
Jennifer Merritt had just celebrated her 30th birthday when she learned she had breast cancer in 2007.
For most of her young life, the mother of three had worn her blond hair down to the middle of her back. The feature drew many compliments.
Losing those pretty locks during chemotherapy was harder than she had imagined.
"It crushed me," she said last week.
Merritt resolved to buy a wig to cover her exposed scalp, which she eventually shaved clean. But the experience, in a wig shop an hour's drive from her home in Linda, was less than helpful to her self-esteem.
"They weren't personable there," she said. "It was an emotional time for me, and it was just a business for them."
Recently, she had better luck in that department.
Wiggies, a shop that opened last summer in Yuba City, caters primarily to patients from the Rideout Cancer Center in Marysville.
Owner Stacy Meagher, 55, a long-time hairstylist, has watched her own family members suffer through physically and emotionally draining chemotherapy treatments.
Women, she said, are affected in unique ways by this process.
"In your mind, you're thinking, 'am I going to live through this?'" she said. "At the same time, you're losing your hair, which, for a woman, is such a part of your identity."
Merritt said that fact became painfully clear when she started finding golden locks of her own left behind on her pillow each morning.
"I was bothered more by losing my hair than my actual (cancer) treatment," Merritt said. "My middle child just cried. He used to play with my hair to fall asleep. It was hard for him too."
Meagher attended a course in Baltimore a year ago to help her learn the ins and outs of fitting, styling and caring for wigs.
She said she created her shop on Reeves Avenue to provide comfort for cancer patients during this early, difficult stage of their treatment. She schedules clients for private appointments, and also offers cleaned, freshly styled donated wigs to cancer patients who cannot afford to buy one new.
"I wanted to create a soothing environment," she said. "I want them to feel better when they leave."
Julie Holderreid, an oncology nurse at Rideout Cancer Center, said she tries to prepare chemotherapy patients for changes they will undergo during the heavy pharmaceutical regimen. When her female patients seem ready, a trip to Wiggies — Meagher's shop — is often recommended.
The recommendation is not just an aesthetic prescription.
"It's tender skin. A wig helps keep the skin protected, and the head warm," Holderreid said.
And hair loss resulting from chemotherapy, "can be painful," Holderreid said. "The follicles can hurt."
Merritt, now 35, knows all about this.
After having survived the process several years ago, Merritt again found herself in treatment in 2011. The diagnosis was Stage IV breast cancer.
Merritt is a veteran of the journey, as are her children, now 17, 14, and 12.
Working with Meagher through one of her most emotionally vulnerable moments was a small, but very welcome relief, she said.
"She does things the right way and makes you feel comfortable," Merritt said. The wig shop, "is more than just a business."
Hair loss from chemo ‘messes with psyche’
Julie Holderreid, an oncology nurse at Rideout Cancer Center, said breast cancer patients feel an extraordinary sense of loss when they are losing their hair.
"It really messes with the psyche," she said. "Especially if they have had a mastectomy, they think 'now you're telling me I'm going to lose my hair too.'"
Stacy Meagher, owner of Wiggies, a shop that caters to patients at the Rideout Cancer Center, said she noticed how difficult it is for any woman losing her hair to enter a regular salon.
"You're listening to women going on about their new streaks and cuts, and here's someone walking into the shop with a bald head and feeling sick. They feel so out of place and uncomfortable," she said. "They're so lost."
CONTACT Nancy Pasternack at email@example.com or 749-4781. Find her on Facebook at /ADnpasternack or on Twitter at @ADnpasternack.