It can take a short two weeks for a cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy to lose their hair. Among the common side effects of cancer treatment, hair loss is ranked high as one of the emotional turning points for patients. It’s a physical marker for the internal battle that’s unfolding.
We’ve all felt it before. The freedom to experiment with one’s hair is a way to convey identity. Dye it platinum? Chin-length bob? Leave it natural? As society has it, our identities are often wrapped up in these decisions, and once that freedom is taken away, it’s a loss that only adds injury to an already difficult situation. But, the beauty of hair is that it’s easily pliable! Two weeks post-chemotherapy, a thin layer of hair will appear, and it doesn’t take long before one can strut a new short look that’s intentional.
At Parlor, we care deeply about transforming lives by transforming one’s relationship to their hair. This month, Parlor founder and owner Gwenn LeMoine, used her “fairy hair dust,” also known in the hair industry as enlightener and years of experience, to help cancer survivor Carrie Herrera, reimagine her hair experience after completing her final round of radiation in December.
“I had a good amount of my self-worth wrapped up in my hair at different times in my life,” Carrie said. “I had a lot of [hair], and most of the time it was long enough for a bun. The idea of being bald was beyond frightening.”
After being told by her physician that hair loss was an unfortunate, but inevitable part of her chemotherapy, Carrie purchased a wig. It was difficult to find a headcover that she liked. From scarves to hats, Carrie ended up preferring knit caps, the most comfortable out of the options, she said. Yet, on the occasions she wanted to feel dressed up and go out to dinner with her husband, she wore her wig, a synthetic blonde with highlights, to “blend in.”
Wigs are a great option for women and men who want a natural look while undergoing treatment. Once treatment is over, and one’s natural hair begins to grow back, there can still be hesitancy to make the transition back to embracing a short hair look.
After a few months post-radiation for Carrie, Gwenn visited her in Palm Springs. A light layer of hair had grown back on Carrie’s scalp. Even with the new hair growth, Gwenn noticed that Carrie still preferred her wig.
“It almost felt like she was putting on a veil in the way that she felt the need to cover herself,” Gwenn said.
As a stylist, this was Gwenn’s ah-ha! moment. She immediately paid a visit to a local Sally Beauty. She collected supplies to craft a new look for Carrie. Simplicity and creativity were key. With those two elements, Gwenn elevated Carrie’s hair into a stylized short hair do’ with flare. It helped Carrie make that emotional leap of confidence for her next chapter of recovery.
“Gwenn said, ‘Now is the time to go platinum. It will make your hair look intentional.’ I hadn’t really thought about it, but she was a hundred percent right and I knew it right away,” Carrie said. “I was excited to make the leap and fully confident in her ability to transform me. Even though she had to go to a Sally Beauty and come up with the products to use, with a master stylist like Gwenn, there’s no need to worry.”
From wig to her new edgy color, Carrie described the sensation of being out in public with her natural locks as a testimony to her fighter mentality. Her new hair embodies her “I ain’t scared of nothing!” attitude.
“[The new color] just made her whole look, look on purpose, like she was just gutsy and had a “short hair don’t care” kinda look,” Gwenn said. “First, she chose to hang out by the pool at the Avalon, then the next day we went out and by lunch time she had her first bystander reach out and say how cool her hair was. It made me so proud!”
With some quick wit by Gwenn, Carrie was able to step into her next chapter of recovery with confidence. Post-chemotherapy is a time period that according to MEND, an organization dedicated to providing resources to cancer survivors by educating friends and families of their unique needs, can be the most difficult.
While undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, it’s difficult to create and sustain a sense of normalcy. But upon recovery, it’s equally as easy to forget how to rebuild that normalcy. A survivor’s relationship to their hair can play a large role in reclaiming one’s sense of health. That’s why Parlor has partnered with MEND to provide Aveda gift baskets to cancer survivors. The baskets will include products to aid in the hair growth process and help survivors style their hair in different stages of length.
As a stylist, and at Parlor, transforming a client’s relationship to their hair is one of the most fulfilling aspects of the job. For Gwenn, it was an honor and a blast to help Carrie in her journey!
And Carrie was overjoyed with her new look, “I haven’t worn the wig for a minute since. And I won’t. I feel so free.”
photo courtesy: @libbyboggsbeauty and Gwenn LeMoine