How to Choose a Wig Before Chemotherapy

When to Buy, How Much to Pay, How to Enjoy Your Wig

Hospital staff helping chemo patient choose a wig.
Choose a wig before chemotherapy. Juan Silva / Getty Images

Picking the Perfect Wig

When I think of a person who excelled at looking good during chemo for breast cancer, I think of one person. Paula was the best-looking young woman in my support group - she was slim and shapely, dressed in colors that suited her, and shoes that were stylish and feminine. Her hair was perfect for her oval face - it framed her features nicely and complimented her skin tone. At our first group meeting, she carefully studied all the women.

Now I know that she was trying to see who else was wearing a wig! And I was amazed to find out that Paula's hair was her own - but it was also temporary. She had found the perfect wig.

Wigs Work for Cancer Coping

Chemotherapy causes hair loss and hair thinning - that means you may be bald during and after treatment for breast cancer. Take heart, I can testify that hair does grow back! If you want a smooth transition from having hair to being hair-free, make a plan before your hair starts floating away. If you able to envision yourself as beautifully bald - adorned with exotic earrings, intriguing eye makeup, and a confident attitude - then you don't need any help from me! But if you want to purchase a wig or some hairpieces, then let's get started.

Do Your Wig Math First

The cost of your wig will vary, so it's a good idea to come up with a price range that you can live with, before you go looking.

Do a little homework on wig basics - different types of construction and hair, different weights. Consider what kind of weather you will be coping with during treatment - cool or hot weather? Your wig should fit not only your head, but also your lifestyle and your circumstances.

Visit a Wig Salon

Find a local wig salon that knows how to work with cancer patients.

The best one I visited was staffed with several breast cancer survivors. You can't beat wig advice from someone who has been down the same path before you. Get measured for a wig, so you'll know what size you need. Try on several wigs, and if you have a friend along, have photos taken so you can study them later. Try a wig that is a little lighter than your natural shade (chemo can lower your red blood counts and that makes you pale). Find a style that matches your current hairstyle, or a coiffure that you've always wanted to try. This is a time to start inventing your Super Twin - the person within you that is super strong and plans on surviving! Consider a change of color if you like. A word to the wise: short and medium length wigs are easiest to care for and weigh less. So skip the Lady Godiva locks and save yourself some time and trouble.

Make Your Wig Purchase

Call your health insurance company and get their policy on wigs for cancer patients. Some companies are generous and some are rather picky. Most will require a prescription from your oncologist. You should buy a wig before your first chemotherapy appointment, because hair loss can start two weeks after your first infusion.

It's a gradual process for many of us, but having a wig ready to go can ease the transition greatly. You can shop for a wig online if you know your size, style and color. I recommend the American Cancer Society's on-line wig catalogue at Tender Loving Care.

Help - My Wig Isn't Perfect

Don't settle for a standard issue wig style if it just isn't you. Take it to a wig stylist and have it trimmed, thinned, styled, or accessorized until you like it. Learn the proper way to put it on and make it fit your head. Most wigs have adjustable tabs or elastics that will make a wig fit you as well as a custom-made swim cap would fit your head.

Enjoy Your Wig

Before starting chemo, I bought a wig and had my hair trimmed to match the wig's style. When my hair departed and I started wearing my wig, suddenly I became a new and attractive person. People complimented me, whistled at me, stared admiringly at me in elevators. At first I resented this attention, because I thought my natural hair was superior to this synthetic hair that I had chosen to wear. After a while, I accepted the fact that many people actually liked Samantha, my polymer-stranded coiffure, and I started feeling better about my appearance. I dressed better while wearing my wig, was careful putting on my makeup, and found that I could enjoy this temporary condition. Later on when my chemo curls appeared, I donated my wig so others could continue to enjoy her. You can find a wig that will help you through breast cancer treatment, and it can be an enjoyable part of your journey.

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