Enniscorthy Guardian

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Wearing a wig is for many a necessary part of being treated for cancer.


Anna Furlong at her premises in New Ross with a wig for a cancer patient

Anna Furlong at her premises in New Ross with a wig for a cancer patient

Anna Furlong at her premises in New Ross with a wig for a cancer patient

Elaine Furlong spoke to New Ross hairdresser Anna Furlong.

HAIR LOSS, a much-feared side-effect of many chemotherapy treatments, is perhaps one of the most psychological devastating aspects of cancer therapy.

'It is a hugely emotional time. Even for people who claim not to be proud or vain, the prospect of losing their hair has a very deep psychological effect. At the back of their minds they know they will get better and their hair will grow back but once their hair is gone their illness is visible to everybody,' explained New Ross hairdresser Anna Furlong, who seven years ago began supplying wigs to patients undergoing chemotherapy.

In those years, Anna has helped hundreds of woman through what is an incredibly distressing time in their lives.

'In all my 32 years of hairdressing I knew people were affected by cancer but until I started supplying wigs I was not aware of the extent of it.'

Anna was first introduced to wigs when a client, who was facing treatment for cancer for the second time and obviously very upset, asked Anna if she could source a wig on her behalf.

'I contacted a company in Galway and they sent me on a wig and told me that no one in Co Wexford was supplying wigs and asked would I be interested,' recalled Anna. 'When I realised what it meant to this lady to get a wig so easily I decided yes I would like to be able to help people so I completed a training course in Galway in wig fitting and cutting and I registered with the hospitals in Wexford and Waterford to start with and it grew from there,' she explained.

From there Anna became involved in Trevor Sorbie's 'My New Hair' – a charity that provides advice and supports professionals who provide a wig styling service for people suffering from cancer.

When clients first arrive to Anna for their initial consultation, she says she recognises that this is the last thing they want to do. 'I set up a private consultation salon, away from the public eye so people can remain anonymous when they see me. The last thing people want look like a wig,' she added.

During their first consultation, clients choose a selection of wigs from brochures matching their hairstyle and colouring and are advised as to the best type of hairpiece that will suit them.

There are three different qualities of wigs: the human hair piece, monofibre hand-woven and monofilament machine-woven. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, according to Anna, who says it is entirely a personal and lifestyle choice as to what wig women choose.

All human hair pieces require maintenance as they have to be blow-dried and styled as if they were the client's own hair. ' Some clients would find this a chore because they are not at their best health when trying to do this and something like not getting their wig right could be so upsetting for them, whereas younger clients may opt for a real hair piece so they could curl and straighten to their suited style,' she advised.

The mono-fibre hand woven wigs are neater at the root and when parted look like you can see the scalp through it, giving them a more natural effect, while the mono filament machine woven wigs have more movement in them and are suited towards a more curly look.

'Whether it human, mono fibre, expensive or inexpensive, those are not the most important decisions in choosing a wig – once the colour, shape and style is right that is most important,' said Anna.

'I see a huge difference in people from when they first walk in the door looking for a wig to when they walk out the door with their new hair.'

When patients who are either undergoing chemotherapy or who are facing the prospect of having to undergo such treatment embark on sourcing a wig, it is entirely a personal decision.

However, Anna finds it is always easier to try set out finding a wig before starting to lose your hair.

'Some people will chose to come before they start treatment and some will have started treatment and then look for a wig when their hair starts to fall because they couldn't face the prospect of getting a wig any earlier. Whereas some people will feel they won't bother with a wig and will wear head scarves but when they start to lose their hair they change their minds. You deal with the person as they are able to cope with it and I am very sensitive to their needs,' said Anna.

'We are all individuals and different so we each deal with situations differently. Many people go through treatment without wig, but people who choose not to do that should not feel as though they are not being strong or brave.'

It is always a daunting prospect losing your hair and when hair loss happens through chemotherapy it occurs quite rapidly, explains Anna

'It is a hugely distressing and emotional time for patients and they need all the support they can get,' said Anna.

'If patients present for a wig fitting and they still have their hair I always offer them the option to return to me and I will cut their hair and fit their wig the day their hair starts to fall and I facilitate emergency calls to patients. I am aware that when the process of hair loss starts someone might need me very quickly,' she explained.

However, once treatment finishes hair will grow back, according to Anna.

'It may be a different texture or colour but once the treatment is over your hair will grow back,' she said.

'Many people often wonder how soon they can take off their wig and in some respects that depends on the person themselves. If someone likes their hair short they'll take their wig off sooner than someone who likes longer hair and obviously it's easier to continue to wear a wig in the wintertime than it is in the summertime,' she said.

Having helped hundreds through this extremely difficult period in their lives, for Anna it is an extremely rewarding job.

'I definitely get more out of it than I give. It's extremely rewarding. Even though there is a sadness about it as you don't like seeing people going through treatment behind it you know you are helping them. The whole idea for me is to give back to women and to support them during this time.'