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Jefferson Regional Medical Center wig salon gives comfort to women with cancer

| Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 9:03 p.m.
Brenda Cline, RN, nurse navigator for the comprehensive breast program at Jefferson Regional Medical Center, helps connect female cancer patients who lose their hair with free wigs and turbans. The goal is to make the wig selection process as private and comfortable as possible. Laura Van Wert | South Hills Record
Jefferson Regional Medical Center partnered with the American Cancer Society in 2012 to open a wig salon for women who lose their hair because of cancer treatment. The salon is designed to make patients feel more at home as they select a wig. Laura Van Wert | South Hills Record

Helen Pomilio remembers the day in 2007 when her hair fell out.

She was getting ready for a luncheon and her hair started coming out in the shower in handfuls. She hoped her hair would stay in place until after the luncheon.

“Not today. You can do it tomorrow, but not today,” Pomilio, 68, said she told herself.

“When women lose their hair, they believe that a part of their identity is gone. This is very scary for many, many women ... That's how I know what the women are going through.”

Pomilio, a two-time cancer survivor, volunteers at Jefferson Regional Medical Center's cancer-patient wig salon, connecting women who lose their hair during treatment with free wigs, turbans and hats. Volunteering at the salon is an opportunity to help female cancer patients out of a temporary situation and give them more confidence.

“It's become my new passion,” Pomilio said. “I try to reassure them. This is temporary. You will like it. You're going to be fine.”

The hospital opened the salon in October and has provided wigs for about 30 people, said Brenda Cline, a nurse navigator for the breast program at Jefferson Regional Medical Center.

Any woman who is suffering from cancer can participate in the program.

“The difficulty with losing your hair is that it's public,” Cline said. “Women will tell me that it's worse than losing their breast. It's another assault on their system.”

Cline helped connect the American Cancer Society with the hospital last year. The society provides the hospital with wigs, turbans and hats for free. The salon is the only free wig salon for cancer patients that works with the American Cancer Society in the South Hills, Cline said.

The salon contains 35 to 40 wigs at a time made from human and synthetic hair, Cline said.

Cline recruited Pomilio last summer because of her own experience losing her hair due to lymph-node-cancer treatment. Pomilio chose to go to her hairstylist and have him shave her head and shape her wig after handfuls of hair came out.

Those seeking the wigs must call the American Cancer Society to schedule an appointment at the hospital salon. Volunteers usually can fit a patient with a wig within 24 hours of the call, Pomilio said.

Each patient is by appointment only to ensure privacy, she said.

The salon staff then works with the patients to fit them with the wig of their choice and show them how hairstylists can shape the wigs with layers and bangs.

“It just falls into place beautifully,” Pomilio said. “The Cancer Society has been an amazing partner.”

Likewise, Cline and Pomilio transformed an office on the first floor of the hospital into a showroom for the wigs, turbans and hats. Unlike a usual office space, the walls are painted a salmon-pink color, with seafoam green chiffon curtains, floral furniture and a vanity with tri-fold mirrors.

“This is just what makes it homey,” Cline said.

Many women bring family members with them.

“We try to make it an upbeat event,” Cline said. “We try to give them something so they can feel empowered. We're trying to give support and encouragement.”

To request an appointment, call the American Cancer Society at 800-227-2345.

Laura Van Wert is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5814 or at

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