Royal Inland Hospital (RIH) hat and wig bank coordinator Marg Marshall spends her days cultivating a joyous space where cancer patients can leave behind stress and anxiety, even if just for a moment.
“When [cancer patients] come in for treatment, it’s scary,” she says. “[Patients] are not feeling well … that’s why we try to have a little bit of fun and get them away from that sickness mentality.”
Marshall has run the hat and wig bank, located on the RIH cancer clinic floor, for just over four years. She says her love for sewing and a desire to help the hospital kickstarted her volunteerism at the clinic.
The RIH hat and wig bank has long been working to help improve the self-esteem of women with cancer in Kamloops. Marshall says the RIH Foundation-funded program “has been around for at least 15 years [and has] always been on the cancer clinic floor.”
The hat and wig bank is open to cancer patients as well as other people getting treatment who have lost their hair due to illness or who have had to shave it in preparation for surgery.
“[Patients] come in and try [the wigs and hats] on and have a little fun with it,” Marshall says.”They sign them out, and when they’re done with them, they bring them back in and we wash them and clean them.”
Gesturing to the shelves filled with wigs and hats behind her, Marshall explains the hat and wig bank keeps a large variety of stock on hand.
All of the wigs come pre-styled and are made of synthetic hair rather than human hair. Marshall says luxurious human hair wigs are a “nightmare” to take care of, while synthetic wigs are relatively easy to maintain.
“I call them ‘wash and wear hair,’” she says, adding that “[maintence] is pretty easy when people have lost their hair because their scalps are usually fairly dry” due to damage from cancer treatment.
“[Patients] only need to wash [the wigs] every 30 wears,” she says, although wig wearers without damage to their hair follicle should wash their wigs every six to eight wears. Additionally, patients can usually find a wig that matches their natural hair colour or preferred style.
Volunteers needed to bring back programming
In addition to helping patients experiment with different hairstyles, the hat and wig bank used to offer cosmetic workshops to patients to help them get the hang of specialized skincare and makeup routines.
In the past, an esthetician would come once a month to demonstrate makeup, cosmetic hygiene and skin care techniques to help patients feel like themselves. But as of October 2022, the bank is between volunteer estheticians and unable to provide those services.
Marshall explains having an esthetician on board would help ensure the cancer clinic can proceed with Look Good Feel Better (LGFB), a complimentary workshop offered to cancer patients at RIH pre-pandemic. At workshops, patients learn how to tackle the appearance-related effects of cancer and cancer treatments.
Established in 1992, LGFB has long served cancer patients across Canada. The charitable program aims to help women feel like themselves after losing their eyebrows, eyelashes and hair due to cancer treatment.
Marshall explains a number of cosmetic companies donate makeup, skincare and tools. Patients get a big bag of fabulous products to take home, too.
Marshall believes looking good can help cancer patients feel better. At LGBF, the feeling is mutual. The organization’s website states, “we know that true health care treats the whole person — not just the physical, but the emotional and psychological aspects too … hair and body image can be a powerful part of that.”
Other hat and wig bank services keep patients comfortable
The RIH hat and wig bank goes beyond hair and makeup, too. The service offers a variety of products that can be helpful after patients undergo surgeries like lumpectomies or mastectomies.
The bank stocks pads patients can attach to their seatbelts to avoid any chest rubbing or irritation, long-term IV line covers and Knitted Knockers — a handmade, lightweight alternative to commercial breast prosthesis.
Marshall explains, “[women] who do not get government support … sometimes can’t afford [commercial] breast prosthesis … [Knitted Knockers] are a free option that [patients] can use along with their own bras.”
Marshall says she is always looking for volunteers to help at the hat and wig bank, knit Knitted Knockers and sew seatbelt covers, long-term IV line covers and hats and caps. She’s especially keen to find a volunteer esthetician to help revitalize the LGFB program.
Those interested in offering help at the hat and wig bank or cancer clinic can email Marg Marshall at [email protected] or drop a note at the hospital. Donations can be made directly on the RIH Foundation website, where a gift designation for cancer care can be selected to specifically benefit RIH’s cancer programs.
In whatever capacity, Marshall says “it’s amazingly rewarding” to donate time and skills to the organization.