Seeing Life Without Hair

By: Elizabeth Donatelli Email
By: Elizabeth Donatelli Email

February 27, 2007

People are diagnosed with cancer everyday, but it is the side affects from the treatment that cause some of the worst emotional scars. That's why researchers at the University of Virginia and Barron Associates, Inc. are developing a technology to help women prepare.

One of the most infamous side affects for chemo therapy is losing your hair, so researchers are developing a way to make the transition from a whole head of hair to a bald head a little easier.

Penny Bashlor was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. She like so many others went through chemo therapy and lost all of her hair.

"I have a white lab coat on and I have dark hair and then all of these black polka dot things were all over me. I was like, 'what is that?' and realized it was my hair. That's when I really kind of had a melt down over the fact that it was all going away," said Bashlor.

Bashlor chose to go without a wig most of the time. Then as her hair started to grow back she was asked to participate in a pilot computer imaging program that would show her what she looked like bald.

"There I was without hair again. It was startling and almost shocking," said Bashlor.

This technology is designed to help women deal with this shock. HAIR, stands for Help with Adjustment for Alopecia and Image Recovery. It's a computer imaging system that shows women what they will look like without hair.

"Between 47 and 58 percent of women who have chemo therapy and lose their hair, report the hair loss as very distressing and traumatic," said Dr. Elizabeth McGarvey a professor at UVa.

The women take a picture and see themselves bald, but then they can see themselves with different hairstyles.

"The idea is to make it available to cancer centers all over the country and it would be a standard part of care dealing with the image recovery and helping women to have quality of life," said McGarvey.

The computer currently has 60 hair styles with 60 more on the way and then patients will have 300 wigs available to buy.

The UVa Cancer Center does accept donations of money and hair.


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