By the nature of its side effects, cancer treatment can make a private battle a very public affair. For a woman with cancer, having a bald head, pale skin or a missing breast can make her feel like she's being targeted by a bright spotlight and a banner that says, "Cancer patient."
But now more than ever, there are resources for women that will put the spotlight back on their work, their accomplishments and their life—and change that banner to simply read, "Woman."
Women in Western Pennsylvania and elsewhere can turn to Cancer Be Glammed.com, a website established three years ago by two Squirrel Hill women who both had experienced the after-effects of cancer.
Co-founder Ellen Weiss Kander retired earlier this year, but co-founder Lisa Lurie remains with the company she helped to create after she, too, was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer.
“I was totally unprepared for the side effects of breast cancer treatment and the tremendous blow it caused to my self-esteem," Lurie said. “I struggled to find fashionable recovery products and style solutions. Cancer Be Glammed was born from my passion to help other women maintain their confidence, self-image, and personal style.”
Cancer Be Glammed.com offers solutions that are both practical and stylish, as in fabrics and cuts designed to flatter and soothe healing bodies. Products it offers include mastectomy camisoles that hide drains as well as fashion solutions such as strapless mastectomy bras and glam lymphedema sleeves in colors and patterns.
The website also offers a selection of survivor-recommended gifts, including robes and pajamas, limited-mobility, leisure and sports bras, swim wear and pampering products for skin that remains sensitive after surgeries and treatments. Lurie also offers a shopping service, a blog with an “Ask Lisa” section and the style guide, What the Doctor Didn’t Order.
Through Oct. 31, Cancer Be Glammed is sponsoring a "Burn Your Mastectomy Bra" campaign on Facebook to encourage women survivors to take control of their recovery. For every "like" the campaign receives, Cancer Be Glammed will make a donation to Gilda's Club of Western Pennsylvania in the Strip District, which helps people who are living with cancer in their family.
For Western Pennsylania women who prefer to shop in person rather than online, Two Cousins wigs in Pittsburgh offers a large selection of human hair and synthetic wigs. Nordstrom at Ross Park Mall offers custom fittings for women who have had a lumpectomy, mastectomy or reconstructive surgery. The store also sells post-surgery bras.
Ladies Hospital Aid Society Positive Image Salon offers services for women at the Hillman Cancer Center in Pittsburgh. Also, Dean of Shadyside offers custom wig fittings with a free initial consultation.
Locally, Sean's Signature Salon in Sewickley provides services for cancer patients and survivors.
Girl on the Go provides private or in-home wig consultations for women with cancer in Pennsylvania and 11 other states, including Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, North and South Carolina, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.
Breast cancer survivor Sheril Cohen started the business after her own struggles with hair loss that were matched only by the frustrating process of getting a wig.
"Wig shopping was awful," Cohen said on her website. "[The attendant] tried to sell me this wig. I thought it was a cute cut, but I thought it made me older and unattractive. I cried. I felt sexy with my long hair. With this wig on I felt like a suburban 40-something-year-old soccer mom. I was successful, single, a 30-something NYC woman. I wanted to retain me—not become someone I did not recognize."
Now Cohen proudly sells wigs of all kinds—synthetic, hybrid, human hair—to women all over the country, providing, as one of her clients says, privacy. Cohen also blogs about topics like wig myths and when to stop wearing your wig. She even offers a formula for determining a wig budget.
As women in chemotherapy treatment discover, hair loss isn't limited to their locks. It means no eyebrows, no eyelashes and, as Cohen points out, one bright spot—no shaving.
Women can visit a lash studio to get back that feminine flutter of the lashes, and maybe even amp up their look with a few sexy, extra-long lash extensions.
"We have wigs in stock and also offer custom wig fittings and colorings," said Megan Edwards, manager of Sean's Signature Salon in Sewickley. "We also give free haircuts to anyone who wants to donate their hair to Locks of Love."
There also resources online for women who have had surgery during treatment. KA Mastectomy Bras and Apparel, started by survivor Kimberly Ashmand, features pretty and practical bras tailored to the unique needs of survivors, as well as some with a little lace and sparkle to help women feel sexy again.
Adopting a new look during treatment is about more than simply feeling good for the moment—it can be another weapon in a woman's arsenal against cancer, giving her a deep well of positivity to sustain her.
Lisa Johnson, owner of Kiss and Makeup, a professional on-location makeup artistry company in Pittsburgh, has experience working with breast cancer patients, including her mother.
"My mother went through chemotherapy twice, so unfortunately this situation is near and dear to my heart, but I'm grateful to be able to offer eyebrow recreation, lash fittings and skincare help for cancer patients," she said. "Radiation and chemotherapy can take a toll on your skin, so I help women camoflague it so they can look and feel beautiful."
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