March 11, 2019

'Spare hair' helps cancer patient blend in

Jennifer Endicott and her husband holding their two children

Madison, Wis. — While Jennifer Endicott’s cancer diagnosis was a complete surprise, (“As it is to most people,” she says), one part of her treatment was not: losing her hair during chemotherapy. She took that fact head-on, and even shaved her head before her hair really started falling out. However, there was one thing she was not entirely sure how to handle.

“One of the big factors I was worried about was scaring the kids,” Endicott says of her two children, ages four and one. “My four-year-old is that that age where they ask a lot of questions. They notice things. The biggest thing I thought would affect him is, mommy’s going to lose her hair.”

Endicott and her husband treated it as something silly that would happen to her during treatment. They told the kids that she would be wearing “spare hair” for a while. And after Endicott visited the wig salon at UW Health provided, through the Wigs for Patients Program, she got her spare hair.

“It’s our funny little way to talk about it,” Endicott says. “The kids have even tried on different wigs. And my kids are both blond and I’m naturally medium to darker brown, so my son loves it when I have a blond wig on, he’s like, ‘Oh mommy’s blond today like us!’”

Stephanie Schutz, a licensed cosmetologist with UW Health (though more commonly known as the Wig Lady), has been working with patients like Endicott for over 15 years. Many of the people she works with – from cancer patients to alopecia patients – have told her that hair loss is difficult because it is an outward sign that they are going through treatment or have a medical condition.

“We want patients to be happy, to feel good. We want them to keep going to work and feeling good about being out there,” Schutz says. “And we want it to be up to them if they want to let people know that they’re going through treatment or going through something – and that you can’t tell by looking at them.”

The Wigs for Patients Program, funded through Friends of UW Health, is open to any patient in the UW Health system, including affiliate sites. Each patient is eligible for one free wig, and they can pay out of pocket for as many wigs as they want. The salon provides extra wigs to patients at cost (outside the UW Health wig salon they would have to pay a mark-up). Schutz and her team of seven volunteers schedule patients for one-hour appointments to try on different wigs and ensure they are fitted properly.

“We carry wigs with foiling, highlighting, ombré, shadow shading – if it’s happening in the salon, it’s happening in the wig salon,” Schutz says. “Whatever you’re looking for, we can probably find it and order it.”

Endicott says that Schutz and her team have been fantastic and make her feel very comfortable – even when she wants to order several wigs. By her estimation, she has 11 wigs now, though she only wears six of them regularly. Which wig she wears depends on the day. For example, if she is going to see someone she has not seen in a while, she will usually wear the wig that is closest to her natural style and color. Sometimes she just wants to try out a different look, because she can. Sometimes she goes without a wig. No matter what she chooses, the wigs give her the option of masking her hair loss.

“You go through treatment, you feel great one day and not so great the next day,” Endicott says. “Your close friends and family and co-workers know what’s going on. But sometimes on those good days, you don’t want everyone at the grocery store to see you and know. Once in a while, you just want to blend in.”