INDIANAPOLIS — It’s hard to name something the pandemic hasn’t affected. When COVID hit and everything shut down, people couldn’t get their hair cut and many of those long locks were donated once appointments opened again.
Meanwhile, since wig requests opened back up, some providers have been surprised by who is calling for help.
The requests were expected from a backlog of cancer patients and alopecia patients, but it turns out many callers need help after catching COVID.
I met Carmel mom Jessie Graham in chemotherapy at Hematology Oncology of Indiana last year. She has Stage 4 metastatic triple negative breast cancer. Graham said she often walks past the mirror and doesn’t recognize herself.
“When you’re diagnosed with cancer, you feel like your world is turned upside down and you really just try so hard to keep your life as normal as possible,” said Graham. “When you lose your hair, that is not normal, and part of losing your hair is that it’s a part of your identity, and then you feel like you’ve lost your identity.”
“At times I would wear my wig just to blend in or have an evening out that just felt normal,” she said.
I talked to Leah Madara, the program manager for the Women’s Health Boutique at Ascension St Vincent Carmel, about what they’re seeing.
“At first it seemed like, ok, the floodgates have just opened back up, we’re seeing this backlog of patients that we weren’t able to help while we were closed. And then we realized we were seeing a lot more patients that were not coming to us with a need because they’re going through chemo, but because they’ve had COVID. And so COVID has caused some long-term thinning or hair loss.”
Madara said hearing someone say she “feels like a woman again” is why she’s stayed at the Women’s Health Boutique for 15 years.
“We’ve had a lot of educators, maybe they teach elementary school, and that’s a tough conversation to keep having with third and fourth graders. Mrs. so-and-so, why do you look so different? And I even have patients who have small kids at home, and they find it’s too upsetting to them and their kids for the kids to see them without a wig,” Madara explained.
At the boutique you’ll find synthetic hair, which is easy to manage for cancer patients, but some people do prefer human hair. And that takes donors.
“That is a question we commonly get from people that stop in with this fabulous Disney princess hair that is down to their mid belly,” said Madara. ” They’re like, how do we donate this? Can we just hand this to you? And so we encourage them to seek out those other organizations because they have a great system in place.”
Noblesville nurse and mom of two, Nikkie Morgan, has that Disney princess hair.
“A lot of the websites, the organizations, have step by step instructions and it’s actually super easy,” she said.
She’s about to donate again in a few weeks. She’s done this for several years and is thinking she’ll donate to Wigs for Kids this year.
“If I can make someone smile or make their day just because they don’t qualify to get wigs, they don’t have insurance, they don’t have the money for the wigs, if I can help them in any way, I want to,” said Morgan.
And Madara says she sees at least half get denied coverage. That’s what happened to me.
“It’s a cranial prosthesis,” said Madara. “I mean we all call them wigs of course, but when you think that a prosthesis is replacing something that’s missing, it’s a cranial prosthesis, and so the doctor has ordered it, they’ve got this script, they certainly have this need, and then when it’s denied by their provider, it’s really frustrating for them.”
The pandemic has affected wigs like everything else. Not only might they be out of blonde one week and out of brunette the next, more women are showing up for help.
“We have had quite a few patients over the last 12 months who seek us out because they’re like, I don’t know if my hair is going to eventually grow back but in, but right now, I very much need a wig,” Madara said.
Whatever the cause, they just want a piece of their identity back.
Graham says her family has been unbelievably supportive.
“Just in the last year, my four-year-old niece and her mother, my sister-in-law, and my stepdaughter, have all donated their hair in hopes of helping people like me feel and look normal and honestly, I couldn’t be more proud of them or love them more.”
If you’re interested in donating, most hairstylists know how to handle donations.
I talked to Great Clips and their salons provide hair kits for you so you can make a donation after they cut it.
If you’d like to meet with a certified fitter in a private room at The Women’s Boutique, you don’t need to be a patient of St. Vincent, but they do recommend you make an appointment.
The boutique’s hours and contact information can be found on The Women’s Boutique website.