Jennifer McNaughton with the Red Deer chapter of the Canadian Cancer Society takes care of many of the wigs for the wig lending program from washing to styling them.

Hair, when you need it

Long, flowing manes, bobs of bouncing curls and short sleek, cuts all of various textures and colours, can be found in the wig room at the Canadian Cancer Society in Red Deer.

Long, flowing manes, bobs of bouncing curls and short sleek, cuts all of various textures and colours, can be found in the wig room at the Canadian Cancer Society in Red Deer.

For staff, they’ve seen how the room, brimming with nearly 50 coiffed mannequin heads, also acts as a boutique of self-confidence.

“It really gives people hope and makes them feel good during moments of distress,” said Jennifer McNaughton, the society’s business services administrative assistant. “Most people come in here crying and walk out laughing, so it touches your heart.”

Running for well over five, the wig lending program is open to cancer patients suffering hair loss from treatment. Clients do not have to be referred to the program and there are no restrictions, McNaughton said, meaning they can borrow the wig for as long as they need.

“Some come in and switch wigs weekly and get pretty creative with it, make it their own,” said McNaughton.

Wigs can be a pricey luxury many just can’t afford during their demanding treatment so the program is free of charge. Synthetic wigs are at least $100 and real hair wigs can run up to over $500, McNaughton said.

“With the real hair wigs, they can cut them, dye them, change it however they want to suit their personalities. … They are the first wigs to go,” she said.

Proctor and Gamble Canada, in partnership with the Canadian Cancer Society, launched the Pantene Beautiful Lengths campaign in 2007, encouraging Canadians to donate their hair to create real-hair wigs for people who are undergoing cancer treatment.

Pantene Beautiful Lengths accepts hair donations of at least 20 cm, then creates, ships and donates real-hair wigs to Canadian Cancer Society wig banks across Canada at no cost.

McNaughton said countless Central Albertans, especially children and youth, have taken up the torch when it comes to donating their hair and the society is always thrilled to receive these gifts.

The Red Deer chapter has well over 100 wigs — which staff shampoo and style on a regular basis. Only about half of them are on display. There is also a wide array of scarves, hats and turbans for clients to choose from.

“We see about one to three women a day for a wig swap or fitting here in Red Deer. … How it works is you can try on as many wigs as you desire and you can take one or two home at first to see which one you like better.”

Many of the women find themselves in the chicly decorated room, also dubbed the hope room, through the Look Good Feel Better program run out of the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre. The program is based on the idea that a woman feels better when she’s happy with her appearance and in turn is empowered to face her illness with higher spirits.

“Survivors come back and return their wigs or donate more, hoping it will help another like it did for them. … It’s just an amazing self-esteem booster and you see what a difference it makes from the women’s reactions,” McNaughton said.

Anyone wishing to donate can drop off gently used wigs and/or new scarves and hats at the society at 6751 52nd St. in Red Deer or visit to donate money that can go directly towards purchasing a wig.

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