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Hair Peace Charities assists patients in obtaining wigs

By Pam Starr
Monday, Nov. 3, 2008
 

Bonny Diver-Hall was riding her horse Romeo one day five years ago when she unexpectedly fell and broke her shoulder.

That fall saved her life, the local radio personality says, because it was then that she found the lump in her breast the size of a robin's egg. A mammogram didn't even show the lump, which turned out to be cancerous.

"I had a lumpectomy and chemotherapy," says Diver-Hall, now 51, who lives in Avalon. "By the 15th day of chemotherapy, your hair will be gone. It comes out in handfuls. It's really devastating."

"It's one more thing they're taking away from you," she says. "First, they're taking away your breast; then, you have no hair."

One thing that Diver-Hall found out is that many insurance companies don't pay for wigs for cancer patients. That's why she created Hair Peace Charities, a nonprofit organization that helps women with cancer in the 412 and 724 area codes pay for wigs.

"To not have any hair is difficult," Diver-Hall says. Her own medium brown mane tumbled down her back before chemotherapy. "First, you're told yes, you do have cancer. Your life changes at that moment. Then you find out your insurance company won't pay for a wig."

Diver-Hall realized she needed to do something. So, armed with volunteers from her church, Ingomar United Methodist in Franklin Park, and a finance expert, Diver-Hall founded Hair Peace Charities in 2005. All the money raised stays in this area, she says.

"We can't help outside patients, but we do put them on prayer lists and send them cards," she says.

A good, realistic-looking wig can cost $300, says Diver-Hall, who does traffic reports for B94, Star 100.7 and Y108. Her organization writes a check for $100 to the wig shop for a patient. There are a couple of shops, she says, that have been a "godsend" for patients -- Creative Hair Solutions in Hampton and Dean of Shadyside Salon.

"The hardest thing to do is to make an appointment, because you know you're going to lose your hair," she says. "They need to do that before they lose their hair, so the shop can match it.

"Friends and family have a really huge role in getting the patient a wig, because most women won't make that call themselves," she says. "They need to know to contact me, and I need permission to call the patient."

Nearly 175 women have been helped since the charity was founded. Diver-Hall refers to them, and herself, as Hair Peace warriors. They're not just survivors, they are fighting back against the cancer.

"It's an amazing journey -- I feel lucky and blessed to be able to help women through their struggle," she says. "I'm glad I've been able to tap into this."

One of the women Diver-Hall has aided is Linda Kern, 52, of Cranberry. Kern, a single mother, was diagnosed in July with breast cancer and is halfway through chemotherapy. Her shoulder-length blond hair came out in clumps a couple of weeks into the chemo.

"You know it's going to happen, but it's still shocking," says Kern, a part-time learning facilitator for disability services at Community College of Allegheny County on the North Side. "Hair Peace gave me money to buy a wig, sent me a meal and cards, and has been very supportive and helpful. "

Kern's 16-year-old daughter, Mara, decided she wanted to help the organization, so she set up a couple of fundraisers at her school, Quigley Catholic. She sold car magnets and lapel pins, and had a hat day and a dress down day at school, where students pay money to wear a hat or to dress down.

"There are only about 200 kids at that school, and she raised nearly $600," Kern says. "She gave it all to Hair Peace Charities."

Hair Peace Charities recently received a $10,000 check from the Pittsburgh law firm of Babst, Calland, Clements & Zomnir. The firm started doing breast cancer fundraisers two years ago, after the disease affected some of its clients, families, and friends. Dean Calland, 54, came across Diver-Hall's project and thought it was a "good idea."

"I had lost my dad to prostate cancer, then I lost my sister last year to colon cancer," he recalls. "As one of Linda's primary caregivers, I knew how important it was to her to know where her wig was. Having a wig was significant to her.

"Our firm is very committed," he says. "It's the least we can do to make a difference in their lives."

The Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition, with headquarters in Lancaster County, does not give vouchers for patients to receive wigs, according to Dolores Magro, director of patient advocacy. Neither does the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation. But the American Cancer Society does. Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan, senior community cancer control specialist in the Pittsburgh office, says patients must meet financial eligibility guidelines.

"We used to have wig banks, where women could get free wigs, but we don't do that anymore," she says. "We weren't professionals -- we didn't know how to put wigs on their heads."

Gilda's Club of Western Pennsylvania does not have a wig program, but the club is creating a community bulletin board where women who want to donate or offer their wigs can list their information, according to executive director Carol Lennon.

Hair Peace Charities does not stop at helping patients buy wigs. Volunteers from Ingomar United Methodist Church plant daffodil bulbs in the yards of patients' homes every weekend in November, and they also sew prayer quilts.

"When they tie a knot on the quilt, they say a prayer for a person with cancer," Diver-Hall explains. "It's cold in those chemo rooms. The patient can put the quilt over their legs and feel the knot, and know they've been prayed for."

Volunteers also pick up meals and deliver them to patients. A support group meets once a month at the church as a way to assist patients in solving problems. Guest speakers have talked about stress, nutrition, acupuncture, yoga, prayer and other topics.

Additional Information:

Contacts

Hair Peace Charities , go to online or call 412-327-5177.

American Cancer Society 's wig voucher program, call 1-800-227-2345.

Gilda's Club , call 412-338-1919.

 

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