“People always ask me how long it takes to do my hair. I don’t know, I’m never there.” ― Dolly Parton
When we think of wigs, the picture coming to mind might be something that screams “Diva”. As Dolly herself often says “it takes a lot of money to look this cheap!”
Patients undergoing chemotherapy face a dilemma: whether to “go bald” and brave it out with caps and scarves, or cover up with a wig.
Tracey Gervais (Wigs@Hair@Tracey’s, Amble In Centre, Main Road, Walmer) understands that helping a woman find the perfect wig is a ministry to her soul.
Patients at Bay Breast Care had recommended Tracey, so we got together with her recently.  Here’s what we learned.
After running a successful hair salon in Port Elizabeth for 33 years, Tracey was given a golden opportunity last year, to take over a long standing wig-fitting business. She’d always loved wigs, but sharing premises with expert wig fitter Norbert for a year in 2012 really inspired Tracey as she saw the clients come in looking ordinary, and go out with their new wigs “looking fantastic”.
Tracey even asked Norbert if she could work alongside to learn from him – but he turned her down, explaining that his approach was always very personal, sensitive and extra-respectful of clients’ privacy so he wouldn’t be comfortable with that – an attitude that made Tracey respect him even more.
But when the time came a year later for Norbert to retire, he offered Tracey the business, and she couldn’t have been more honoured that he was putting his trust in her. (We aren’t surprised. Tracey’s caring approach and love for people is obvious).
Women undergoing treatment for cancer form the majority of clients, then and now. Tracey says that her clients often fear losing their hair more than breast surgery: “So many women tell me, ‘Maybe my hair won’t fall out’. I ask them, ‘What does your doctor say? That hair loss is a side effect? Then it is going to fall out, so let’s make a plan before it happens”.
With chemotherapy, hair usually takes at least a year to return fully – and it may not look the same as before. It could grow out grey if hormone replacements have been stopped, or have a different texture. Keeping it under the wig until you’re ready buys time to decide on a style that works for you in the longer term.
“My word is ‘enhance’, because the right wig makes a woman look and feel so much better than she did before, yet it’s still her own look”, says Tracey.  “When a client is so happy and excited to go out with her new wig, well, that’s what I’m here for!”
One of our patients at Bay Breast Care shares her experience:
I would like to thank Tracey from Wigs@Tracey’s for the wonderful assistance she gave me in selecting my wig after having lost my hair through chemotherapy. Her professional and caring nature helped tremendously when I decided that I did not have the courage to “go bald”. She helped me choose a style and colour similar to my own hair and I have received a lot of compliments from friends as well as strangers who cannot believe that I’m wearing a wig. The wigs she recommends are light and airy and I am able to wear mine every day without any discomfort. Thanks Tracey for helping me boost my confidence and self image during this very difficult period of my life!
A well fitted, good quality wig is an investment in yourself. It’s a way of not allowing cancer to define who you are or how you appear. If you like the Divine Diva image, great – but most clients prefer a wig that looks more like what they’re used to seeing in the mirror, their natural hair. photo 2 (1)
For that reason, Tracey recommends that clients book a visit to Wigs@Hair@Tracey’s before they start anti-cancer medication. That will give her a chance to see how your hair usually looks. Once you start chemotherapy, you may have a few weeks at most, before hair falls out more or less all at once as the drugs that attack cancer cells also attack fast-growing hair roots.
For you as a client, knowing you have options will allow you to be less fearful – if not less sad –  as you say “goodbye for now” to your own hair. That is a process, and Tracey finds that women can grieve over hair loss as much, and sometimes more, than they do over the loss of a breast (especially now that breast conservation is often available).
Wigs, as everyone knows, are not cheap, ranging from about R2000 upwards, depending on length of hair, quality and style. But Tracey points out that you could be wearing your new hair for up to a year, so you will at least save on hairdressing costs over that time even if you don’t want to keep it after that.
It’s also worth contacting your medical aid as many schemes will help with the cost of a wig – and if they won’t, add it to your Medical Tax Credits and SARS will allow it. (Bad luck guys, male-pattern baldness doesn’t count with the Receiver as ‘physical impairment resulting from medical treatment’!)
Dolly Parton once said that she wants people to remember there’s a brain under that big hair and a heart under those big boobs. We totally respect that! Women shouldn’t be defined by their appearance. But when cancer takes a swipe at your  body and life, it doesn’t hurt to get a bit of self-confidence going.
Wearing a wig from Wigs@Hair@Tracey, you don’t have to feel like you’re going to fancy-dress party as a movie star. It’s more than enough just to feel like yourself again.