HAIR, CARE

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- New Chief Executive Officer Brian Hannah, outgoing Executive Director Mimi Riche' and Marketing and Development Director John Boudreaux, from left, talk about the recent transformation of the wig room at Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge.
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- New Chief Executive Officer Brian Hannah, outgoing Executive Director Mimi Riche' and Marketing and Development Director John Boudreaux, from left, talk about the recent transformation of the wig room at Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge.

Wig room at Cancer Services gets much-needed makeover

The “Wig Boutique” at Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge is just one part of what the nonprofit organization does.

But it’s a highly visible one — and one that’s had a very nice do-over, recently, with its clients in mind.

The little room that holds wigs, turbans, knit hats and scarves for women who’ve lost their hair during cancer treatment was restyled this past fall, thanks to local volunteers and donors.

Staffers describe the space before its transformation as having a kind of 1980s look, with green walls and metal warehouse shelves painted pink.

“We had wanted for probably a couple of years to freshen it up,” said Mimi Riché, who will retire as executive director early this year.

The organization turned to volunteers for help.

Joel Fazende, an interior designer with Dixon Smith Interiors, was one of those who stepped up.

The local design firm has been a friend to Cancer Services in the past, Riché said, donating furniture for its library, the first room visitors see when they visit Cancer Services, at its Lobdell Avenue location, and providing fabric, as well, to recover chairs in the room.

“Joel just has a heart for what we do,” Riché said of Fazende.

Volunteers with ExxonMobil Chemical’s Baton Rouge Polyolefins Plant and a carpenter, brought to the project by ExxonMobil, turned Fazende’s ideas for the room into reality.

The organization’s wig room was painted a warm coral color, a back wall was built out to hide exposed wiring, shelves were built, and sconce lights were installed over a new counter where women can try on their wigs.

An intern with Cancer Services carefully arranged the wigs by color. A new chair, ottoman and stools complete the comfortable look of the room.

“We wanted to make it like a salon” a place where the clients would feel uplifted, Fazende said.

The designer donated floral artwork, a bright visual focal point, in memory of his wife, Darnelle Fazende, whom he and their family lost to breast cancer on Feb. 14, 2011.

The top shelves in the wig room at Cancer Services are too high to be used to hold wigs, so Fazende suggested that framed photos of cancer survivors go there.

The pictures, in black-and-white, are an inspiring exhibit.

Cancer Services provides more than 200 wigs, for as long as the cancer patients need them, every year, Riché said.

The loss of their hair can impact a person’s confidence and self-esteem, she said.

“This is a room that can have such a diversity of emotions,” she said. “There are women who can’t even step across the threshold ... other times, there’ll be hoopin’ and laughing and hollerin’.”

The synthetic wigs, easier to care for than those made of human hair, are regularly picked up, washed and styled and returned by local volunteers with the Remington College and Virginia College cosmetology programs, Riché said.

People often donate wigs to the boutique. A local women’s volunteer services organization, the La Capitale chapter of The Links, has also held an annual event, “Wigs, Martinis and Bow Ties,” to provide wigs for the boutique.

The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute of Boston also donates wigs, Riché said.

Mable Norflin, of Jackson, 75, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, had long snowy white hair that she usually wore down, she said, before she lost her hair after she began chemotherapy.

This past December, she visited the Cancer Services’ Wig Boutique and found a white wig that she liked. She said she wears it when she goes out of the house.

“It’s a very nice place,” Norflin said of the boutique.

In addition to the wigs and head coverings, Cancer Services, which serves a 10-parish area, provides, at no cost, nutritional supplements and medical supplies and the loan of medical equipment, such as bath stools, hospital beds and wheelchairs.

“These are tangible items that help offset the high cost of a cancer diagnosis,” Riché said.

In addition, there are support programs for adults and children, exercise programs, peer mentoring and survivorship programs, and a resource library.

For those who meet certain income guidelines, there is financial assistance in the form of prescription help and mileage reimbursement.

“The heart of Cancer Services is helping you through the cancer ... empowering (patients) today,” said Brian Hannah, the organization’s new chief executive officer.

Cancer Services is funded through Capital Area United Way, special events, contributions, annual giving and grants.

“Everything we can do, we can do because of the generosity of the community,” Riché said.

As a new, coral-colored chair was put into place in the Wig Boutique on a recent Friday, Trish Mann, program director of direct assistance, said of the newly spruced-up room, “This is sort of a sacred space where some important things happen.”

Once, a woman who had recently been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer was in the wig room, when another woman came in, who was in treatment for the same kind of cancer and was doing well. The second woman was able to encourage the new patient, Mann said.

“That’s serendipity. Nobody could have planned this,” she said.

For more information about Cancer Services, call (225) 927-2273.