When cancer takes your hair

Krystyn poses in her rollerskates and purple wig for the Elevate Salon

A patient’s empowering experience on the journey from hair loss to renewed confidence

When Kristyn Thiel first stepped into The 11 Day Power Play Cancer Resource Center, she had lots of questions about what to expect from her upcoming treatment. At just age 39, the discovery of a lump in her breast led her to travel to the Buffalo area to stay with her two aunts as she prepared to receive treatment at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center for triple-negative breast cancer.

When she came to the Resource Center she had long, straight, light brown hair. She would soon discover that her chemotherapy regimen would cause her to lose this hair so much faster than she had expected. Within a week of the first treatment, her hair started falling out. Kristyn decided to first have her hair cut shorter and then she had her head shaved.

“I had shaved my head previous to this to raise money for cancer research, so I felt I was little more prepared,” Kristyn explains. “But this time it was so different. I would look in the mirror and not recognize myself. One, it was the hair. Two, I couldn’t wear my contacts because of the particular chemotherapy treatment I was on and how it affected me. Also, I had gained weight and I just felt so different.”

It's not at all uncommon to feel apprehension, sadness or a loss of privacy before, during and after chemotherapy-related alopecia. In fact, for both men and women, hair loss is often the most common and distressing adverse effect of chemotherapy. Studies have shown that more than half of patients consider hair loss to be the worst side effect of chemotherapy.

Elevate Salon provides wigs, head coverings and confidence

Elevate Salon stylist LaFondra poses in the new salon
Our stylists, like Lafondra, are ready to customize patient’s wigs with that personal salon touch.

Roswell Park’s Elevate Salon helps patients navigate hair loss due to cancer treatment, offering pretreatment haircuts, head shaves, personalized wig styling, trimming and shaping and more from professional stylists. “I felt so safe, and everyone was so kind at the salon,” says Kristyn. “Lafondra helped me figure out what to do with my hair when it came to cutting it shorter and then shaving my head. Then, the first time I selected a wig, I felt beautiful in a way I hadn’t felt in a really long time. I had cancer and I felt beautiful. I wasn’t expecting that.”

Thanks to generous donations to the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation, patients experiencing hair loss due to their cancer treatment are eligible to receive one complimentary wig and one complimentary head covering. Patients may also choose to purchase additional styles through the salon’s retail model. Kristyn tried a little bit of everything: a baseball cap with hair, headband with hair, everyday style wig, long wig, short wig…even a bright pink wig. “I could be someone else in the different styles I chose,” explains Kristyn. “I had fun with it, naming the wigs…Sandy, Charlie, Rochelle.”

It may sound silly to some, but Kristyn confirms how something as simple as a wig helped her through the worst thing that’s ever happened in her life. “The Resource Center and Elevate Salon made it all so much more doable,” she shares. “There’s so much that goes on internally as a cancer patient, both in your body and in your mind. Your entire system is working on kicking cancer’s butt and everything about you feels like junk. There’s so much about cancer that makes you feel ugly. But it’s important to find those little ways to feel beautiful along the way…that’s what the Resource Center and Elevate Salon’s Wig & Head Covering Program provides.”

What would Kristyn share with someone recently diagnosed with cancer and facing the potential of hair loss? “Find a way to feel beautiful, whether it’s the hair you gain with a wig or all the beautiful parts of your body that are working so hard to make you well again,” encourages Kristyn. “I tried to remember that what was seen on the outside was just a reflection of how hard my body was working to keep me here. I am really proud of my body. Try to look at all the good things your body is doing. Your body is working its butt off for you!”

Elevate Salon at Roswell Park

“At Elevate Salon, we provide a respite for patients where they can feel comfortable and understood in an uplifting environment.” Visit us on the first floor of the Clinical Sciences Center, next to the Breast Oncology Center.

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Celebrating one year of the Elevate Salon

The salon’s beautiful, new space located on the first floor of the Scott Bieler Clinical Sciences Center celebrated one year of operation on May 25. In just one year, Roswell Park’s Wig & Head Covering program, supported by Quality-of-Life grant funding, provided nearly 2,200 wigs and head coverings to patients experiencing hair loss due to their cancer treatment.

In addition, the salon provided more than 1,200 stylist and consultation appointments to help patients find just the right look and feel more like themselves as they navigate a time when they are feeling vulnerable and experiencing a loss of self-identity. Last but not least, many salon tours and visits were conducted to let patients know about the Elevate Salon’s program offerings, as well as what to expect with cancer-related hair loss, how to properly care for wigs and tips on scalp care during treatment.

The Buffalo Sabres Alumni Association has been a dedicated partner of Roswell Park for more than 20 years, often focusing its giving toward efforts that positively impact women with cancer. Elevate Salon is made possible in part by a generous gift from the Sabres Alumni in support of all patients who will seek comfort and peace there. This new space has also been made possible through the generosity of Michael and Kirsten Lawley and the Lawley family, as well as Bunkie Hawk.

Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.