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Stylist pampers cancer patients by styling free, high-quality wigs

Hair stylist Pat Julkowski shows a wig she finished for a child undergoing cancer treatment. Julkowski is a licensed stylist who fits and styles wigs and demonstrates makeup techniques at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center at Independence Health System’s Benbrook Medical Campus in Butler Township. Women and children undergoing cancer treatment are welcomed into the Cancer Support Services Center for a session entitled “Styling it Right and Looking Your Best.” Holly Mead/Special to the Eagle

BUTLER TWP — When women come to the salon room at the Cancer Support Services Center at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center at Independence Health System’s Benbrook Medical Campus, they are rarely in a good place emotionally due to hair loss, a new cancer diagnosis or physical illness.

Enter Pat Julkowski, former owner of Creative Hair Solutions of Allison Park, who is a licensed stylist who retired two years ago.

Julkowski, a volunteer at the center, leads patients through the center’s “Styling it Right and Looking Your Best” session.

First, Julkowski helps the patient select a free wig made of real human hair and a hair halo to wear under a hat.

She then fits the wig to the patient’s head and styles it, based on their personal wishes.

“When women come in, they are overwhelmed at what they see,” Julkowski said, “but by the time they leave, they are so excited and so grateful.”

If the patient still has their hair, a similar wig can be selected and styled, but everyone knows it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind.

“Sometimes they want to do something a little different (with their hair),” Julkowski said.

If they have lost some of their hair, Julkowski skillfully, and with compassion, encourages the patient to take the hair down to the scalp.

“I say ‘Take it down to the scalp,’” she said. “The word ‘shave’ is scary.”

Julkowski said once the straggling strands of hair are gone, women are usually relieved because a partial head of hair can be embarrassing, itchy or they don’t know what to do with the hair.

After the wig is cut and styled, the patient selects a hair halo and hat.

The halo does not have hair at the top of the head and is worn with a hat for comfort, as wigs can sometimes make the wearer hot.

The halos of various colors and stylish hats are all free, thanks to the fundraisers that support the Independence Health System Foundation.

Patients also get shampoo and conditioner, a special brush, and a wig stand, all of which are theirs to keep, as well as advice on caring for the wig.

“These are very nice wigs and we want to make sure they are taken care of once they leave here,” said Stacy Meyer, oncology patient navigator at the center.

The upscale wigs are assembled in Indonesia using hair often donated by local women through area salons, who send the hair in a pony tail at least 10 inches long.

Meyer said some women receive hair from relatives out of state.

The human hair results in natural-looking wigs for patients, Meyer said.

“The wigs are highlighted and that’s what makes them look so real,” she said.

A wig the caliber of those given to patients at the cancer center would retail for at least $300, Meyer said.

“Tears come to the woman’s eyes and they said ‘I can’t believe what you did with this wig,’” Meyer said. “I couldn’t do what I do without Pat.”

“The customization is so important,” Julkowski added. “Some ladies want their wigs thinned, layered or want bangs.”

Julkowski also helps patients apply makeup, including brow pencil, blush and other basic cosmetics.

The patient is then given a chic makeup bag containing the cosmetics they can use to replace their eyebrows or replicate the pink in their cheek that was stolen by cancer treatments.

Julkowski always tries to keep the mood upbeat and fun for those who come to the salon.

“We make them realize these are side effects, losing their hair, but it’s important to look like themselves,” she said. “We work on their self-esteem.”

The center also offers wigs for children undergoing cancer treatment, which is usually carried out at UPMC Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh.

Meyer said that program just started, and one little girl has received a customized, fitted wig and halo so far.

“We also have special-sized hats for children only,” she said.

Meyer and Julkowski do not see men at the center, as they always opt for only a hat if they lose their hair during cancer treatments.

Sometimes a young mom with cancer will bring her child or children along for her styling consultation.

“We let them try on the children’s wigs, so they’re not afraid,” Meyer said. “We have inexpensive wigs (for that).”

Julkowski explained that only one patient is scheduled at a time, so there are no concerns about someone walking in when their scalp is exposed.

Meyer painted and brought in much of the furniture at the center, which is decorated brightly and comfortably.

“I take pride in making a homey atmosphere,” she said.

Meyer said she and Julkowski outfit about 30 women per month with wigs, hair halos, hats and makeup.

“It’s a feel-good thing, that I can help people with wigs,” Julkowski said.

“Some women walk in crying, and when they leave, they say ‘No one could have told me how much fun I would have here,’” Meyer said.

A sample of wigs, hats and hair halos available to patients at the Cancer Support Services Center at Independence Health System’s Benbrook Medical Campus. Holly Mead/Special to the Eagle
Pat Julkowski works on a custom wig for a patient at the Independence Health System’s Cancer Support Services Center at the Benbrook Medical Campus. Julkowski, a licensed stylist, sizes and styles the wigs to each patient’s liking. Holly Mead/Special to the Eagle

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