Wigs – increasing participation, productivity & confidence in the workplace & everyday life
There are so many considerations for someone diagnosed with Cancer or for those with Alopecia, an Auto-Immune Disease – scans, biopsies, appointments with the GP, Dermatologists, Oncologists, the significant emotional turmoil being experienced by the now patient and their family.
Instantly, instead of the usual daily grind of morning preparation for work and getting kids off to school, spending the day in the place of employment and ending the day over dinner with the family, the daily routine has radically altered.
Daily life now revolves around the disease, the treatment of the disease and the new journey unchosen.For those having received a diagnosis of Cancer, most of the time, oncology consultations not only cover information about the type of treatment recommended but all of the unpleasant side effects, the most obvious of which is hair loss. Not every chemotherapy treatment results in hair loss but the majority do.
For those in client-facing occupations or in large workplaces with many other colleagues, the prospect of losing hair often means your treatment or your Alopecia will become public. For the majority of people, their experience with Cancer and Alopecia is one that they wish to keep between themselves, their friends and family. Working with a large amount of people who become aware of the circumstance because of obvious hair loss means that, for one thing, you can never escape that reality, so not only do you need to discuss the cancer or Alopecia with health professionals, your family and friends, you then discuss it with your work colleagues as they provide their support.
In addition, for those with cancer, you risk being defined by the disease – your productivity and performance within the work environment open to much broader scrutiny and judgement when the side effects of the treatment are obvious. For those who work directly with clients, when the disease reveals itself in the form of hair loss, the worker often feels that their credibility has been diminished, that the client may feel that they are less competent because of the disease and the subsequent treatment and side effects.
Sometimes the hair loss is so rapid it could occur the night before an important meeting or event, planned for the next day. It is generally advised that hair loss may begin between two to four weeks after the first chemotherapy treatment, however that depends on the strength and type of treatment. Similarly with people experiencing Alopecia, hair loss can present with a very rapid onset and given the unpredictability of the disease, no one can predict the extent of the loss – it could be one patch or the whole head and can be lost within days or weeks.
My clients undergoing treatment and those with Alopecia work in all occupations, teachers, trainers, farmers, lawyers, actors, priests, train station attendants, nurses, police officers, accountants, retail assistants, bus drivers – even an archaeologist! All of their roles involve working with people.
Some clients who decide to disclose their cancer to others may feel ok about wearing head scarves or caps. After a time many become frustrated and depressed by the innocent and caring stares they receive as they walk through shopping centres or go out for a meal. The unconscious stares of others lead to constant reminders of the illness – no escape even in anonymous environments.
These unintended consequences of the brave act of ‘owning’ the cancer and its treatment can often lead to isolation with people becoming consumed by everyone else’s regular acknowledgement of their cancer, that they end up withdrawing from participating fully in the world as they knew it only months ago. I receive phone calls regularly from friends, family and workmates of those undergoing chemotherapy making enquiries about wigs on their behalf as they have retreated from their usual activities, not because of their health, but because of their hair loss. Several clients have resigned from their workplaces because they don’t want others to know about their disease or treatment and some because they are sick of people looking at the patches forming throughout their head from Alopecia. Many of my female clients tell me that they are more concerned about the hair loss than they are about the cancer or its treatment because the loss of hair is akin to a loss of femininity given its status as a symbol of female beauty.
At first this kind of sentiment shocked me but as someone who has worn wigs all my life, I realise the importance of the wig for me is equal to that of natural hair to them. I wear my wig all day every day and I don’t even like my husband to see me without my hair, as just like my clients, I feel more attractive, more comfortable in myself, with hair – even though the hair I wear is not my own. When people wear scarves or caps, observers feel the need to express their messages of strength, hope and positivity to complete strangers, to touch them and tell them they will be ok. When asked by my clients about the pros and cons of scarves v wigs, I ask them, “Are you wanting to participate ‘normally’ as you have done in the past? Do you want to look well? Do you want to feel well?” Because hair is a natural part of the body’s makeup, – that the overwhelming majority of people are born with hair, people without it will look different and will be reminded of their change in circumstance when people naturally look and when they see their reflection in windows or mirrors.
To those who choose that path, they are to be admired for their strength and for others, realistic wigs help to remove the curiosity factor from the workplace and everyday life while improving confidence, self-esteem and ensuring women feel good because they look good.
Tammy Lobato Wigs
experience & empathy