You Can be a Superhero When Cancer Strikes Your Client
If you’ve been in the stylist business for any length of time, you’ve developed close relationships with clients. There is an intimacy, because you’re touching their hair. Typically, you share stories of your lives, sometimes even connecting at a very deep level.
Women see their stylist as their trusted friend and confidante. And they should. As a result, women frequently call their stylist as soon as they get a cancer diagnosis.
The hair stylist can be their superhero.
Cancer can be a scary word. For women, the word evokes lots of images, but the major one is of hair loss. Even women who hate their hair fear losing their hair due to the chemotherapy or the radiation.
Predicting hair loss can be difficult as two women taking the same drug may respond completely differently. It is typical for hair to fall out, sometimes in clumps, often during shampooing, sometimes at night, and sometimes seemingly all at once. Women also may lose eyebrows and eyelashes, while others don’t. Just as you can’t predict how the hair will fall out, you also can’t hazard a guess as to how or when the hair will grow back.
Additionally, there are other aspects of cancer that cause women to feel less beautiful. Breast cancer patients mourn the disfigurement or loss of their breasts, which symbolize for many their allure and femininity. That combined with swollen tissues, tiredness and changes in skin and nails just makes the whole process scary and challenging.
You can be a hero. You can create beauty and serenity during this frightening, disruptive time. You can give them hope, confidence and courage.
Here are some things to consider:
- When you get the call (and you will someday if you are in the business for any length of time), this is the equivalent of a 911. Be available and be helpful. You are needed!
- Determine the next steps. Does she want you to style her hair for what could be the final time for a while? Does she want you to come up with a plan for when her hair is starting to fall out? Does she want your advice on wigs, scarves, turbans and make-up?
- If she’s considering a wig, trim a bit from the top or front of her hair right away and bag it up for her, so she can match it up with a wig, if she decides to go that direction. Of course, lots of women experiment with colors during this time as a way to feel powerful, different or free.
- Many women ask their stylist to come with them for the wig selection and fitting.
- Some women can’t tolerate a wig. It makes them hot or itchy. They may ask your advice regarding hats, turbans or scarves, in terms of colors or styles that will favor their face shape. If you’ve never thought about this, get yourself educated!
- If the cancer treatments have started and she’s come to you for styling, treat her with extra TLC. Use extra gentle shampoos and conditioners and massage in slowly and gingerly. Brush with great care, as the hair can be fragile and the scalp can be tender. Limit brushing if the hair has already started to thin, as this just causes more fallout. Use a wide-tooth comb if you can.
- Hygiene, hygiene, hygiene. You have to be like a soldier fighting off invading armies of possible germs. She is so susceptible to infection right now, so be sure everything is scrupulously clean from the chair to the apron to your tools to the handle on the mirror. And DO NOT cut her!
- Keep things simple. Braids, treatments, overuse of irons and curlers, these can all make things worse. Gentle styling is the way to go right now.
- Once the hair loss has really started, ask her if she wants you to shave it off completely. It’s empowering to choose to shave the head instead of letting cancer choose. If she says yes, pick a day and make it the easiest on her you can. Have her bring her turban, wig or hat with her so you can place it on her professionally and style if necessary. See if she wants a special makeover on the house. (Nail services are off limits for a while, as they are a possible source, however minor, of infection.)
- Preserve her dignity. Can you do the complete shave at her house? If not, do it at your salon, but try to find a private place to do it or try to do it after hours. Be sure that all of the other stylists know what is going on. They can come by and hug her or tell her she looks beautiful or even go in on a special treat .
- Face her away from the mirror while you’re shaving her. And don’t gather the hair that has fallen in front of her. Try to keep your cool, but if you cry, it’s fine. This is a loss.
- Use your funds or the salon owner’s to give her something special that day like beautiful flowers or interesting earrings. Yes, it costs money, but she needs to see herself as more than her hair.
- When the hair grows back, it might be a different color or texture for a while. For several months, you’ll just have to work with it, as she will not be able to color or treat her hair. Help brainstorm with her on some fun, short hairstyles that she never considered. Help her to feel as beautiful as possible.
- Set up regular appointments to keep her wig cleaned and styled or just for a gentle shampoo and some pampering.
- Celebrate the end of chemotherapy with a mani-pedi, now that it’s allowed!
What have you done to be a stylist hero during your client’s cancer journeys? Let us know in the comments sections!