Battling cancer in the body and in front of the mirror
Shaw Cancer Center launches remodel to provide new appearance center space
EDWARDS — When a patient is fighting cancer, not all of the battles are waged in treatment or operating rooms.
One of the biggest skirmishes happens anywhere there is a mirror.
Cancer treatment can change the way a patient looks and it can be difficult to begin healing when you don’t look like yourself. That’s why the people at the Shaw Cancer Center believe that it is important to keep up appearances.
“Hair loss is a very traumatic part of the cancer experience,” said Erin Perejda, a clinical social worker and director of the Survivorship program at the Shaw Cancer Center. “For some people, that visual reminder has power. It makes the diagnosis that more real.”
“Some patients are more concerned about hair loss than the cancer itself,” she continued. “It’s not about vanity, it’s about self-esteem and their identity.”
But there is a corps of local salons, individuals and resources dedicated to helping patients who are battling both cancer and appearance changes. And, this winter, the Shaw Cancer Center is launching a remodel to provide a special appearance center space at its Edwards facility.
Look better, feel better
Perejda said the Shaw Cancer Center prides itself on its extensive support programs — covering everything from fitness to finances. She noted appearance issues fall under the center’s support efforts. Shaw has a number of dedicated partners in this work. For example, Cloud 9 at Saint James Place offers complimentary haircuts, shaves, manicures and pedicures for Shaw cancer patients. D.J.s in Edwards, Hannah’s Design in Denver and Bellini’s in Glenwood Springs also donate services for patients.
At the center itself, there is a large collection of wigs, hats and scarfs provided to patients free of charge. An equipment expansion in the treatment area recently required relocation of those items and the appearance supplies are currently housed in a conference room at the adjacent Jack’s Place building.
“It’s a room that can be closed off and is private,” said Kim Sharkey, Cancer Services Manager at Shaw.
When the appearance salon construction is complete, the supplies will return to the Shaw center, in an area located just down the hall from the fitness room.
Perejda said there are dozens of wigs and drawers overflowing with hats and scarfs, all complimentary and all available for Shaw patients.
“Everyone handles appearance change in their own way,” said Kristi Grems, a licensed professional counselor at Shaw. “Some people are ready to have their head shaved and wear it as a badge of honor.”
For other patients, wearing wigs not only helps with self-esteem but also with privacy.
“People had said to me that in their professional life, it helps to wear a wig so they don’t have to answer lots of questions, ” Sharkey said.
As the Shaw Cancer Center prepares for the new appearance services area, staff is also researching new methods for cancer patients to retain their own hair during treatment. For example, a product called DigniCap is an FDA approved method that cools the scalp during chemotherapy treatment and minimizes hair loss.
“We are pursuing the options to see what size of equipment would be best for our clinic,” said Grems.
From new equipment to a new space, the Shaw staff said working with patients on appearance issues is a vital part of cancer treatment.
“Shaw puts a lot of thought into the whole body and healing,” said Grems.
“Self-love and self-care is a big part of getting through something like cancer. It’s all about healing,” said Perejda.