“Wigged out” is the phrase Tina Herold uses to describe how she felt the moment she learned the tiny bump on her chest found after toweling off from a shower was a deadly and aggressive form of breast cancer.
"Excuse me?" the 34-year-old mother with no family history of the disease asked her doctor. “It was on my chest!”
“It IS breast cancer,” the doctor told her, saying that breast tissue extends all the way up to the collarbone. It had already spread to a lymph node and the odds of survival looked grim, but Herold wouldn’t go down without a fight. That was seven years ago this October.
Treatment took five years and included a lumpectomy, six and a half weeks of radiation, two years of intravenous cell therapy with the drug Herceptin, daily hormone therapy and monthly shots to her abdomen to shut down her ovaries. She was in denial about the loss of her hair with the eight rounds of chemotherapy she would endure. “I really thought I wouldn’t lose my hair,” she said.
Her husband Scott made her go wig shopping anyway. She said he would pull the wigs down on her head tight and fumble around trying to adjust them as shopkeepers looked on offering little compassion.
“You walk into a store and you have to tell people you need a wig because you have breast cancer,” she said. “That was the saddest day of my life sitting in that chair. You can trick yourself, thinking this is not really happening, but the moment you’re putting wigs on your head it’s real. It hits you and it’s real. That was the most difficult day.”
After the chemo treatments, she began to shed hair little by little until Christmas day when she found herself lining the pieces up on the shower wall to keep them from clogging the drain.
“I just laid on the floor afterward in the kitchen, of all places, and cried and cried. I called my husband who came home with a shaved head and said, ‘We’re doing you next.’ ”
Her then five-year-old and three-year-old girls got a one-time pass to cut mommy’s hair. Then came the buzz cut that left the bald-headed soldier staring her down in the mirror and pushed her to declare war on the disease invading her body.
“All right, cancer. If you mess with me, I’m gonna push back. You have made me mad. That is the moment I got my fight on,” she said.
Today the 41-year-old facilitates a support group for young women battling breast cancer. It’s where she met a woman who suffered the same form of the disease and who admired the adventurous wigs Herold would sport at meetings well after she no longer needed them.
“I only recently stopped wearing them. They’re so much easier, but I’m back to doing my hair again. We will see how long that lasts!" she said.
The two became fast friends and later the young woman asked Herold to take her wig shopping after the cancer had returned with a vengeance. In the parking lot of one of the shops the young woman broke down and asked, “You can do this better! Why aren’t you doing this?”
So she did. Herold took out a bank loan and started the wig business she now runs from a room in her home just outside Kansas City, Kansas. Her friend has died, but her picture hangs on the pink walls of the salon where the majority of clients served are cancer patients.
Sessions are by appointment only during the week when her kids are at school. While some prefer one-on-one fittings, others choose to bring a group of friends or family and their children. The space itself was designed as a private safe haven to help clients feel at ease.
“Cancer patients already have so many doctor appointments that I want them to feel comfortable,” Herold said.
The wig fittings include everything from matching natural hair color and finding the right size and shape for the face to instructions on how to wear a wig cap and tips on maintenance and styling. Before getting started, however, each appointment begins with an open and honest conversation that often includes tears and hugs. The talk prepares the women for what to expect.
“I needed my hand to be held. I had no idea. What’s going to happen? What should I know? Is there something I need to chase down the road? What do I need to know now? We go through every step, ” Herold said.
Herold was recognized in 2012 for her work when named a “Model of Courage” for the Ford Motor Company ‘Warriors in Pink’ campaign where 100 percent of the net proceeds from the apparel sales the women model online at www.fordcares.com go to one of four organizations: Susan G. Komen Foundation, Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, The Pink Fund and Young Survivor Coalition to continue the race to find a cure for breast cancer.
Every day Herold battles the thought that the deadly disease could return any time, but said that advice from a survivor and total stranger gave her a powerful weapon for her arsenal.
“She said, ‘Ask yourself if in five years if you will have regrets that you didn't do everything you could to never face this beast again.’ She will never know how much those words helped me. It was a message from God. She said to take every treatment possible and I did. I know I’ve done everything I can possibly do to try to keep it from coming back,” Herold said.
Should it return, Herold says she’s ready to again take on the disease expected to kill nearly 40,000 women across the United States this year. Knowing she’s already beat those odds once, she no longer feels the panic she faced when first diagnosed. In fact, she finds strength to continue to ‘battle the beast’ by educating others through her blogs, public speaking appearances, support group work and by serving clients at her salon appropriately named “Wigged Out.”
Tina’s Tips for Battling Breast Cancer
- Ask your oncology nurse to give you a referral for an experienced and reputable wig salon where you can make an appointment for a personal fitting with someone who's honest.
- Pace yourself to rest when you need it and take advantage of "good" days by doing something fun.
- Use every treatment available to you.
- Let people help you because you will need it and because it also helps them cope with their own feelings.
Watch Tina's Ford Warriors in Pink videos on YouTube:
Read Tina’s blog for tips on caring for wigs and advice for breast cancer patients:
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