Wigs help cancer patient regain identity

Cancer patient Joyce Stevens has fun with wigs as she deals with hair loss from cancer treatment.

Cancer treatment takes a physical toll on a patient's body, but a side effect of that treatment, hair loss, can take a heavy mental toll.

This room in the back of the Ellis Fischel Cancer gift shop in Columbia is a private place for people to face a shocking reality of their treatment.

"When they lose their hair they have breakdown and this is where it becomes reality for them," says wig specialist Edlyn Donovan.

But with Donovan's expert selections, her patients can feel like themselves again.

Breast cancer survivor Joyce Stevens knows that feeling.

"She found a wig that was like my hairdo and my color and when I got it from her I was... I was me," says Stevens.

Since then, she has purchased four more wigs and has fun with them. She gives them all names, the red one is called Ginger.

"You never know what a red-headed Ginger's going to do," laughs Stevens.

Her husband Reid loves them all, and says this is one indulgence he can't deny his wife during a very difficult time. He also notes they have saved money not going to the hair dresser while she has been waiting for her hair to grow back.

Wigs offered today come in many more realistic looks than those found decades ago. The ones offered at Ellis Fischel are made of synthetic materials. You can shake them and the style stays in form. They come in different sizes and are adjustable. Stevens says they are very comfortable. Donovan notes the easy care styles of wigs are essential for cancer patients who do not feel good enough during treatment to worry about fixing their hair.

"We have the latest cutting-edge style and colors," says Donovan. "We have highlights, we have some with really strong highlights, we have some that have roots. We have ones that look like they have been bleached."

Most cost $100-$150. The wigs are available to women and men receiving treatment at any facility, not just Ellis Fischel.


No One Fights Alone Program

helps to offer wigs free of charge to patients who qualify. A contribution from

Guy and Ellen Brown

endowed the wig assistance program but the hospital still needs donations to keep it active.

Joyce is doing well after finishing her chemotherapy, and says changing her wigs is so much fun that she may keep wearing them even after her hair grows back.