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Wigs for Cancer Patients

When Carole’s doctor told her she had lymphoma, she was so startled that she didn’t even think about hair loss during chemotherapy. The following week, she met her oncologist and asked him questions from a list. Would she lose her hair? The answer: probably.

If you’re a cancer patient who’s past the shock of your initial diagnosis, you might find the prospect of losing your hair very upsetting and even frightening. While some proudly go about life with a bald head or wearing a kerchief, you can choose to disguise your hair loss by wearing a wig.

According to the site cancerandcareers.org, when there’s a probability that you’ll lose your hair, you should request a prescription for a “hair prosthesis” to satisfy medical insurance requirements. You should also ask what if anything you can do to keep your hair.

Before purchasing a wig, make an appointment with your hairdresser to discuss his or her experience with other patients who have had cancer. Your stylist might be able to order the wig for you or suggest a place to purchase it.

Since long hair is heavier than short, consider a short style if you don’t already have one. Make sure you get a lock of your hair to use as a sample while shopping for a wig.

If the prospect of a full-head wig seems hot or otherwise uncomfortable, consider a hairpiece that peeks out from under a scarf or hat. You might prefer to buy just bangs, a ponytail, sections of curls or a fall, many of which can stick to the inside of a hat.

When it’s time to start shopping, you should also ask the American Cancer Society or your physician for information on where to go. Call CancerCare at 1-800-813-HOPE or the American Cancer Society, if the cost is beyond your budget. Both provide gratis wigs to those who need them. Shopping online might mean a lower price than purchasing through a local store, but you won’t be able to make an appointment and actually try on a wig or hairpiece.

The price of wigs these days varies from $40 to more than $4,000 because of the many options on the market. You’ll want to decide whether, like most women, you prefer synthetic hair. It’s less expensive and easier to maintain than human hair. However, while many of these wigs are stylable, you can use hot rollers only at low settings. Avoid curling irons or blow dryers unless manufactured for use on wigs. Wigs of human hair generally start at $1,000.

You will also have a choice of how your wig is constructed. Those made by machines are the cheapest and most plentiful. They generally look realistic as long as you don’t part them or pull them back from your face. They have vents that permit air to circulate to your scalp, making them more comfortable than other types of wigs.

Your hairdresser can help you figure out the best style and color for you. Short styles add fullness to the face if you lose weight during treatment. Since you probably won’t have time to restyle your wig often, consider buying two and use one as a backup. Be sure to examine the wig under natural light to see the true color and any highlights or lowlights.

Your shopping list should include supplies for wig maintenance. These include a head form for wig storage, a wire wig brush, hair nets, a wig cap or liner, and T-pins to hold down the wig during brushing. You’ll also need low alcohol or wig hair spray, wig or baby shampoo and conditioner, and hairpins and rollers if your wig isn’t short and straight.

Once you make your choice, wig shop staff or a hairdresser can show you how to put it on right, make sure the fit is correct or refit the wig if you lose weight during your cancer treatments. He or she should also explain the daily care your wig requires and how to wash and set it. If you bought a wig of human hair, consider leaving the washing and styling to a professional. Human hair is usually difficult to handle.

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