Salon services boost self-esteem of cancer patients

November 2014
By Lauren Chavis, Director of Services, Aphrodite Salon & Spa, Apollo Hospital

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are powerful tools in the fight against a wide range of cancers, but the side effects from these treatments that can cure the body can have devastating psychological consequences.

Life changes for individuals diagnosed with cancer; priorities, schedules and lifestyles change instantly. In many cases a side effect of treatment is the loss of hair, something that might seem inconsequential in the greater scheme of things, but can be devastating to one’s sense of self and personal identity.

This is an issue of special significance to women, many of whom have had a personal hair style for many years. Baldness may be an increasingly accepted look for men, but it is often a source of embarrassment and emotional discomfort for women.

This was true for two family members who survived breast cancer and for numerous cancer patients I have dealt with in my nine years as a licensed cosmetologist specializing in working with cancer patients. Full recovery isn’t limited to healing the body; restoring a positive self-image and self confidence are important components in the struggle to a return to a meaningful, post cancer life.

Extreme hair loss is a common side effect of cancer treatments. Many women do not know what options they have or who can answer questions about alternatives. As a spa operator within a medical facility specializing in cancer treatment, we are in a position to help address those fears and concerns.

Many women appreciate a break from the medical interaction they have with doctors and oncologists. Focusing on appearance is a way to take their mind off of the challenges of chemotherapy. Women often schedule sessions immediately after treatments as a transition period before returning home. It may be a distraction, but it’s one that helps bring calm to a stressful situation.

Salon services at the hospital enables patients to avoid going to a public salon, which could be a source of embarrassment. And because we are part of a hospital, patients can be assured that our standards of cleanliness and confidentiality are above reproach. This is important because cancer patients are more susceptible to infection. Having a sterile environment is significant benefit to avoid unnecessary risk.

More importantly, patients know we have the skills and expertise to guide them through the experience. Hair loss can occur quite quickly for some during cancer treatments. We can assist patients in selecting wigs, hairpieces or fashionable headgear that will enhance their appearance.

Following treatment, hair often begins to grow back. In the first few weeks, most patients will develop soft, fuzzy tufts of hair − sometimes in patches. Within two months, normal hair growth begins, but the new hair may not be the same as it was previously. New hair growth can be straight, curly, thick, thin or even a different color.

As a licensed cosmetologist leading a team of cosmetic specialists, my goal is to help cancer patients find a new look that restores confidence and self esteem. In some cases that involves selecting a wig or hairpiece. We work to find the right wig, the right style and the right overall look that enhances appearance.

Other salon services, including facials, manicures and pedicures, are also helpful in restoring self esteem. We are able to provide service before, during or after cancer treatments, offering convenience and positive reinforcement during a stressful situation.

Working with cancer patients is especially rewarding because it enables staffers to make a positive impact on the lives of women − and men − who are in a transitional phase of life and who are truly appreciative of professional assistance. Like physicians, we take pride in our work helping others. We offer compassion and understanding and are rewarded with gratitude.

On a personal basis, helping cancer patients adapt to changes in health and appearance involves a deeper, more personal connection with those facing a new chapter in their lives. Personal appearance is an important component in self identity, one often overlooked in the greater fight to halt the spread of disease. But being able to restore self esteem is an important part of total recovery − nurturing inner beauty as well as outer beauty and overall health.

Modern medicine has made amazing strides and technical accomplishments in the treatment of cancer, but it’s important to remember the psychological aspects of cancer treatment and its side effects. Restoring an individual’s sense of self esteem and self confidence is an important part of the healing process.