Wake Tech cosmetology students style wigs to help Duke cancer patients

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- As cancer patients fight for their lives, chemotherapy has devastating side effects. One that many face isn't deadly but is dehumanizing -- hair loss.

A new partnership between Wake Tech Community College and the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program is helping to keep the three boutiques at Duke's cancer centers in Durham and Raleigh better stocked with wigs.

Patients can shop the boutiques for complimentary wigs, scarves, turbans, hats, and other items.

When the partnership launched in August, Duke had a backlog of 150 donated wigs waiting to be processed. Since then, Wake Tech's cosmetology students have completed 250 wigs for cancer patients in need.

"With that backlog, we weren't able to serve the patients that we wanted," said Elizabeth Cushing, Self Image Services Coordinator. "So they came to our rescue."

The washing, drying, cutting, and styling process is meticulous. About 40 students have worked it into their regular class schedule.

"We have dried them specifically inside and out to make them have body and fullness," said Julie Callaghan, Adjunct Instructor of Cosmetology. "We have trimmed the bangs and the fringe in a way that brings softness and focus to the person's face."

Callaghan lost her mother, Jeannie, to pancreatic cancer 20 years ago. She still remembers how her red-headed mom felt empowered, getting a red-headed wig of her own.

"I will never forget that -- that moment of her getting that wig and putting it on and conquering something that made her feel defeated," Callaghan said.

The Duke Cancer Patient Support Program is always in need of donations -- wigs and other items, to stock its boutiques.

Cushing said she hopes Duke will maintain the partnership with Wake Tech for the long haul -- or until cancer is eradicated.
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