Finding Strength and Hope in the Midst of Breast Cancer Treatment
Though having well-fitting wigs and prostheses may seem like secondary concerns to some, providing these items—and a safe environment within which to learn about them—can go a long way in helping a patient feel supported and positive about their appearance while they are receiving treatment.
By Essie Roman, LMSW, Women's Clinic Program Coordinator, CancerCare
Breast cancer is the second-most common cancer among American women, after skin cancer. Currently, the average risk of a woman in the United States developing breast cancer sometime in her life is about 12%. This means there is a 1 in 8 chance a woman will develop breast cancer, according to the America Cancer Society (ACS).1
A woman receiving a breast cancer diagnosis can face many treatment decisions. Even after each treatment option has been explained, she can struggle with selecting the best treatment option. Adverse events caused by some treatments, like hair loss, can add another layer to the myriad of emotions that one can experience when starting treatment.
Though having well-fitting wigs and prostheses may seem like secondary concerns to some, providing these items—and a safe environment within which to learn about them—can go a long way in helping a patient feel supported and positive about their appearance while they are receiving treatment.2
There are many options today to help a woman feel more comfortable with her appearance, such as wigs, hats, scarves, and turbans. Hair loss can be a distressing, but there are many organizations that help women with free wigs during treatment. CancerCare’s Wig Clinic provides free wigs for women diagnosed with any type of cancer who are receiving chemotherapy. During a 30-minute fitting, hair color, style, length, and how to care for the wig are discussed with a wig fitter, who will help women try on several wigs to find the right one. An oncology social worker is also present to provide support.
Many clients have said that their free wigs from CancerCare allow them to feel fun, beautiful, and special, and they are very grateful.
“My experience at CancerCare was great,” one client said. “The staff helped me answer my questions to the best of their ability and made me feel comfortable trying on wigs and hats.”
Being informed about resources available, such as breast prostheses in case a woman chooses to forego reconstruction is important. There are many different types of prostheses that an individual can choose from to feel more comfortable with their appearance.
CancerCare’s bi-monthly Prosthesis Clinic is an opportunity for women with breast cancer who have had a mastectomy to receive mastectomy supplies. Its aim is to empower women diagnosed with cancer to look and feel their best. The service is provided on a yearly basis, with a maximum of 3 yearly visits, to women who are undergoing chemotherapy and/or radiation, have had a full mastectomy, and live in the 5 boroughs of New York City. Women are fitted by a certified fitter every time they are seen and are able to leave with their prosthesis and mastectomy bras.
The women who visit the clinic are so appreciative of the privacy they are given and gentleness with which they are fitted. A recent client who was fitted with prostheses after a double mastectomy was emotional at her visit. “I didn’t know that I would react this strongly (as she was holding back her tears). I feel whole again.”
Another patient said she was very grateful to know that people care and want her to feel better.
Patients from outside New York City can speak with an oncology social worker at CancerCare to help them learn about sources for free wigs by calling 800‑813‑HOPE (4673).
A Database of Services at Patients’ Fingertips
CancerCare’s Online Helping Hand can also be a helpful tool. It is a searchable, online database of practical assistance for many concerns, including wigs and fittings. ACS chapters may have wig services or offices that offer free wigs. The hospital where patients are receiving treatment might have a wig clinic as well, or might direct patients to local resources.
At the end of the day, having an impact on those living with cancer is all that matters.
- American Cancer Society (ACS) website https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/about/how-common-is-breast-cancer.html
- Christ G, Messner C, Behar L. Handbook of Oncology Social Work: Psychosocial Care for People with Cancer. Oxford University Press: New York, NY. 2015.