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Guiding Patients Through the Cosmetic Side Effects of Cancer Treatment

Web Exclusives — May 12, 2021
Rosie Kelly
Digital Content Specialist
The Lynx Group

Michele Lawson has been styling hair since she was 15 years old, and has worked her way up the ladder to become the owner of her own salon. She considers being a stylist as her calling, but it wasn’t until her stepmother, Maureen S. Konopko, was diagnosed with cancer that she found another way to use her talents.

In 1999, when Maureen was only 49 years old, she was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer and was given only a few years to live. Michele stood by Maureen through her battle with cancer, dedicating time to accompany her to medical appointments. Maureen passed away 7 years after her diagnosis.

While accompanying Maureen to one of her first cancer treatment appointments, Michele walked by a class that was being held in the hospital by the American Cancer Society. The class was providing wigs and makeovers to patients with cancer. When Michele inquired about the class, she began to see how she could use her expertise to help patients with cancer, such as her stepmother.

Volunteering with the American Cancer Society was only the beginning of Michele’s work with patients with cancer. For the past 20 years, Michele has lent her cosmetic skills to patients in local hospitals, eventually bringing the practice to her own salon, Hair & Co. in Red Bank, NJ, in the form of Wig Warriors-the Maureen S. Konopko Foundation.

Wig Warriors was founded to help patients cope with the cosmetic side effects of cancer treatments. Michele was motivated to start the foundation after witnessing the problems Maureen encountered during her own treatment.

“The side effects of cancer treatment can be cruel. Not only do you have cancer and you’re fighting for your life, but there is an outward sign that you’re battling the disease,” said Michele.

Patients with cancer are faced with a hard road, and the external signs of cancer treatment are a constant reminder to themselves and to the people around them that they have cancer. There is very little escape from the disease, and patients may struggle with hair loss or issues of self-esteem because they look different. That’s where Michele wants to help.

Wig Warriors offers services for every step of the cancer journey and for every patient, regardless of their gender. Patients receive a consultation to prepare them for the hair loss associated with chemotherapy and to create a plan of action to take away some of the burden they may have. In the beginning stages of hair loss, patients can visit for a private appointment to have their head shaved in a comfortable and safe environment. Wig Warriors offers free wigs and wig services, and free makeup and tutorials for drawing on eyebrows or for those who are new to wearing makeup. These services are offered at no cost to the patient, which is made possible by donations.

Wig Warriors’ services often provide a sigh of relief for patients. The cancer journey is associated with a high level of stress. Wig Warriors can control this aspect of worry to allow patients to leave the salon with a weight lifted off their shoulders. It is comforting for patients to go to a stylist who understands these side effects of chemotherapy and can assist without question or judgment.

“They come in and they feel like they’re home,” said Michele.

Donations to Wig Warriors can be made through Venmo (@Wig-Warriors) or PayPal. Your donation will help Wig Warriors to purchase wigs, head coverings, wig stands, and cosmetics for patients.

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