Hairdressers aim to assist local cancer patients

Published 6:07 pm Saturday, October 8, 2016


It’s not just doctors and family members who take care of those diagnosed with breast cancer. Cosmetologists, barbers and hairdressers aid breast cancer patients along their journey as well.

Once patients start treating their cancer with chemotherapy, their hair is the first thing to fall out because it is the last part of the body to receive nutrients, cosmetologist Carolyn Gent said.

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Gent of The Body Shop takes working with cancer patients personally, and she said it is her mission to be there for them in any way they need. The first time Gent ever shaved a breast cancer patient’s head was in the woman’s home after two hours of conversation and a pot of coffee.

“It’s a really powerful relationship to have. It’s impacted me more than anybody could ever imagine,” Gent said.

Most of the time the women who come to her for help after their diagnosis are already regular clients or a client’s relative. She said the most important thing to do when working with cancer patients is to have therapeutic communication, which she said is listening to them, meeting their needs and being open and perceptive to their feelings.

“Not every client wants to shave their head right when they start treatment. Some people do,” Gent said. “A lot of people do that at home. I’ve gone to people’s houses and done that for them before because it’s very personal. There’s a lot of tears and there’s hugging and crying.”

She said all women deal with the diagnosis differently, and there is no right way. Some women find shaving their head cathartic, she added, because it gives them a little piece of control over the situation.

“For a lot of women that is really important to feel like their hair may be falling out, but they are going to get it first,” Gent said.

She said it isn’t easy being the one to shave the patient’s head, but Gent does feel honored being asked to be there for them. Sometimes those house calls turn into a lot of talking without any actual hair cutting. Gent tries not to take the emotion of her clients’ diagnoses home with her, but it is hard not to because she cultivates genuine relationships with them.

“I pray for my clients everyday because I love them,” Gent said.

Gent first got a glimpse of how cosmetology influences cancer patients when she was in school at Mississippi Institute of Aesthetics, Nails and Cosmetology. The school has an annual hair-donating event for Pantene Beautiful Lengths where donated hair is used to make wigs for cancer patients.

“That’s where I developed a passion for helping women feel better when they go through treatment,” Gent said.

In addition to cutting their hair and being a confidant, Gent also refers her clients to charities and organizations that can supply quality wigs. She then helps fit, cut, color and style their wigs, or she will teach them to wrap bandanas or scarfs on their head.

People often forget many cancer patients loose their eyebrows and eyelashes too, Gent said, and she also helps them with new methods for applying their makeup like drawing on eyebrows or putting on false lashes.

“All those little things matter,” Gent said. “How to navigate the beauty world is really important…I really feel that’s one of my main purposes in life is to make them feel gorgeous.”

Dion McGloster of 2000 and Beyond Salon has also had a number of clients come to him with their diagnosis and ask for help with their hair. Typically, his patients let him know of their diagnosis and share with him why they chose to shave their head.

“It’s the first thing they say,” McGloster said.

Some of his patients wait to shave their head and work to save as much of their hair as possible for as long as possible, but others just want to shave it all off immediately. While some patients do their best with the hand they were dealt, some hold in their emotions entirely and others openly find the experience of losing their hair very emotional.

“I’ve had some want to salvage as much hair as possible. I’ve had some say, ‘Just take it all off because its breaking off anyway,’” he said. “I can tell it emotionally effects some of them to have to take their hair off. Some just roll with the punches.”

He said every client is different, and after he has completed the haircut, he has witnessed a wide variety of reactions by the clients who are coming to terms with losing their hair.

“I’ve had some embrace it. It’s quite strengthening for them…They’re OK with it,” he said. “A lot of them I can still tell it bothers them because they continue to look in the mirror and just reflect on what they had.”

Personally, he feels honored to be there to help the breast cancer patients in their time of pain.

“Hair is important, especially to a woman. To loose their hair and for me to be the one to encourage them, its an honor, actually, to be the one to do the best I can to help them look their best even in such a time,” he said. “It has me compelled to make sure I do my best to help them feel as comfortable as possible.”