Julie Waker is a qualified hairdresser who has been volunteering at St Luke’s Hospice in Basildon for over six years. Last year she started running the Wig Bank, where unwanted wigs are donated to be professionally cleaned and styled for people who have lost their hair due to illness. The Wig Bank has just celebrated its first anniversary, and here Julie reflects on the difference it has made to the many women who have used the service.
Running a Wig Bank had been a dream of mine for ages, and I’m delighted to be working with St. Luke’s Hospice and grateful for all the help, support and donations received which has made our first year a great success.
There have been challenges. Spreading the word of what the Wig Bank offers being one of them – most people are very apprehensive when they visit and come along with a family member or friend to support them. All are very pleasantly surprised as no one really knows what to expect. Clients can browse the wigs, have a consultation with me, and then I advise them, styling the wig to their personal requirements. Together with hospice volunteer support we aim for the visits to be friendly and fun, but they can also be very emotional.
Women of all ages have used the Wig Bank; nearly all prefer their visit to remain private. Some bravely say that the reason they want a wig is because they specifically don’t wish to draw attention to their illness as they are still working whilst receiving treatment, or they are returning to work and don’t want colleagues to know about their hair loss. Some have bought quite expensive wigs on the internet and been disappointed with the resulting purchase – this has made them even more despondent and despairing about their situation, or about wearing a wig.
Many women and their companions have cried tears of joy seeing themselves with hair again and have been surprised at how emotional the experience has been! Some have said that it has given them the confidence to go to social events they were thinking of not going to because they didn’t want to answer questions from people who hadn’t realised they were ill, or had lost their hair. One young mum was so overjoyed with how she looked in her wig that she told us she now felt she could meet her young children at the school gates again.
Another lady who had struggled to go out because of how she looked and had been persuaded by her sister to visit us, phoned her husband before leaving and told him she wanted to go out to dinner when she got home – something they hadn’t done together for a long while. A common theme runs throughout all the visits – all the ladies say how devastating it is to lose their hair, and that whilst being grateful for life-saving treatment the process of losing it so quickly, and the impact it had on their self-esteem was such a shock it had affected them and their families more than they imagined it would.
Although the sessions are hard work and can be emotional for both me and the volunteer that is helping, it’s very rewarding to see the joy and genuine difference we have made to people. As the Wig Bank is held at the hospice one of the other benefits is that it also gives the opportunity for people to find out about support they can receive which they had not realised was available to them. I am really pleased with how our first year has gone – and am looking forward to being able to help and support even more women in the coming year.
For more information visit St Luke’s Hospice