That’s how Kelly began to envision a one-stop shop to counter the disfiguring effects of medical treatments. She began by volunteering at Union Memorial in 1994, pushing her cart of cosmetics from room to room, offering free makeovers and talking to patients about the physical changes they were facing.
As time went on, her volunteering morphed into a business and she was providing a whole menu of patient-client services — facials, wig cleaning and styling, eyebrow tinting — at several Baltimore area hospitals. In 2001, she opened an Image Recovery Center, as her business came to be known, at Johns Hopkins.
Seventeen such centers are operating in hospitals across the United States now. Three more are scheduled to open by the end of 2013. Kelly and her husband set up the facilities, designing the centers and hiring and training the staff. The centers offer shaving of the balding head, facials and manicures at prices comparable to those of moderately priced salons. They also sell custom-made wigs, hats, scarves and breast compression garments.
Kelly says she often hears clients say, “I can have cancer, and look this good?”
“Helping the patients to resolve some of the appearance issues that they’re dealing with enhances the recovery, in that they feel positive. It helps their self-esteem,” Kelly said.
Cancer’s effects on careers
There is another reason to keep up appearances during chemotherapy: An altered appearance can identify someone as a “person with cancer,” according to Diana Harcourt and Hannah Frith in the July 2008 Journal of Health Psychology.
Debra Fruehling, the principal technical trainer at BAE Systems, was given a diagnosis of breast cancer in 2011. Since then, she has received dozens of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Fruehling, of Indian Head, did not want some colleagues to know of her condition because she didn’t want them to deal with her differently at work. Fruehling wanted a wig, but she refused to go to a normal wig shop because she didn’t want to show her bald head. She went instead to the Image Recovery Center at Johns Hopkins.
“You don’t know how it hurts to look in the mirror and see yourself bald,” Fruehling, 47, said. “It’s hard. And to know that all I got to do is grab this great-looking wig and put it on and I fixed that — it takes stress away. And stress is the enemy to getting better.”
Paulson is a freelance writer in Maryland.