PORT ANGELES — Dawn Saiz of Sequim was unusually reticent about going to her hair appointment. At 62, she’d been to lots — but this one was different. She arrived at The Hair School in Port Angeles not knowing what to expect.
Saiz had been diagnosed with colon cancer that had metastasized to her liver. Already, the chemo was taking her hair and she was unhappily resigned to it, figuring she’d just wear hats and scarfs to make do. After all, staving off cancer was her highest priority.
But then a co-worker’s wife told her about a program that gives free wigs to women and children with a cancer diagnosis. It’s a collaboration between Olympic Medical Center, the American Cancer Society, Studio 121 School of Cosmetology, and The Hair School. Both the latter agencies are in Port Angeles.
The brand new wigs are provided as part of a national campaign by Pantene Beautiful Lengths and are created from donated hair. Each participant is given two wigs, at no cost.
Saiz didn’t know what to expect when The Hair School’s owner, Shara Smith, got her settled in a chair. Smith, who had cancer in 2004, understands the emotions involved with appointments like this. She says she’s lucky she can give back in this way.
“It’s what I love to do,” she said.
Out came boxes of wigs. Several were tried on but it was the very first one Smith had suggested that was the ‘one.’ Its color complimented Saiz’s skin tone in a way she never thought a wig could. And it looked pretty good. She thought that was it.
Then Smith went to work with shears, clippers and combs. She explained that these wigs come with too much hair. They must be cut and styled to fit each individual’s face.
As the hairdresser worked, Saiz sneaked peeks in the mirror and marveled.
“It looks like me, I’m amazed,” she said beaming.
Smith said most women want their new wigs to make them look the way they did before cancer treatment.
But she remembers one woman who’d fantasized about having long hair, and got it.
Another wanted to change her hair color, and chose red.
Besides fitting wigs, The Hair School collects donated hair. This last month 34 ponytails of eight inches or longer were donated, boxed and sent to the American Cancer Society in Seattle to be fashioned into wigs. It takes six to eight ponytails to make one wig.
Saiz thanks those who take time to grow hair they then donate.
“It means so much. You donate hair but you don’t see the true joy it brings! I’m humbled knowing people care enough to help like that.”
The hard part was when Smith turned Saiz away from the mirror and gently shaved her head. The hairdresser said she does that last, so the wig is ready to go. Once it is in place again all in the room relax.
Newly coiffed, Saiz looked forward to showing her husband, who’d been worried about her and even called while she was in the chair.
“Oh, he’ll love it,” she exclaimed.
Smith ordered another wig in that color for Saiz and then walked her to her car. There were hugs, and when the hairdresser came back into the shop she had tears in her eyes.
“Women in cancer treatment should feel good about themselves and having a full head of hair, styled especially for them, can be the key. It’s something I can do and it gives me such joy.”
For information on free wigs for cancer patients or to donate hair, call The Hair School at 360-452-3048 or Studio 121 School of Cosmetology at 360-417-0388.
Fran Howell is a freelance writer and photographer living in Port Angeles.