Chemo Incognito: Everything You Need to Know About Buying a Wig
Jacki Donaldson’s advice can make life after breast cancer chemotherapy much easier.
A little more than one year ago, I was bald - compliments of chemotherapy for breast cancer. It was a tough time for me, losing the hair I really liked and adjusting to a changed appearance. It was not tough, however, to determine what I would do about my bald head. I knew before I lost my first strand of hair that I would need to cover my head - just as some women know instantly that going bald is their best option. So I did some research, did some shopping, and proudly bought a wig.
If you plan to wear a wig, consider these tips before your own search for hair begins.
• Before you lose your hair, try on a variety of wigs (pay attention to size - if the wig bends your ears, it’s too big), investigate colors, and make a purchase so your wig is ready and waiting when you need it. Hair loss typically occurs two weeks after the first chemotherapy treatment.
• Talk to cancer survivors, hair stylists, and social workers for shopping advice and suggestions for local shops, catalogues, and Web sites. The American Cancer Society offers an on-line wig catalogue at TLCDirect.org.
• Explore options outside of wigs. You can also find bangs, ponytails, and underhair to wear with hats and wraps. They look natural and give the illusion of a full head of hair. I bought my underhair from HipHat.com and wore it under my own hats. It is made of human hair, and I chose my color, texture, and length. Visit InspiredByYou.org for more variety.
• Wigs are made with either synthetic or real hair. Synthetic hair is durable, easy to maintain, and less expensive than real hair. Real hair looks more natural, is more versatile, and can be cut, washed, dried, and curled.
• Wigs are either machine-, hand-, or custom-made. Custom-made wigs closely resemble your own hair but are costly and can take months to make. Hand-made wigs look natural with strands of hair individually tied so the wig can be easily styled. Machine-made wigs are most affordable but look less natural.
• My underhair did not cause itching or irritation. If your wig causes any physical discomfort, consider purchasing a wig cap liner. You might also try Sea Breeze astringent or cornstarch powder on your scalp before wearing your wig.
• Supplies you might need include a wig stand and wig care products. For my human hair, I used John Frieda Frizz Ease shampoo and conditioner. Both are available at grocery and drug stores. A local store gave me a Styrofoam head to serve as my wig stand at night.
• Wig prices vary widely and can range from $15 to thousands of dollars. I paid $210 for my underhair, and a friend of mine paid $89 for a great-looking synthetic wig.
• Have your doctor prescribe a “cranial prosthesis” so your insurance company can help pay for your wig. Contact the American Cancer Society (1-800-ACS-2345) or Cancer Care (1-800-813-HOPE) to determine your eligibility for a free wig.
I hope these tips lighten the load and ease the burden that might overwhelm you at this difficult time. Happy shopping!
Jacki wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Breast Cancer.