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Linda’s Journey: To the Wig Salon

“I try to give people confidence when they come here. Lots of people just want to talk. So, why not talk to me?” ~ Linda Norman

Linda Norman’s father looms over the story of the journey which has taken her to the Cancer Support Community’s Wig Salon as its volunteer wig fitter.

Her father watched Linda’s young friends come to her house so she could cut and style their hair. She loved doing it, and they loved having it done. And it was he who suggested that she become a hair dresser after high school.

“That’s what fathers did then—they told their daughters what to do,” says Linda, her grey patterned wool scarf, with its matching sweater, swirling about her shoulders. “I went to night school during high school, and when I graduated, I got my first job. I was 18.”

The Philadelphia-area native leans forward on the Wig Salon’s couch. “I managed a salon for 15 years, and also managed to get married and raised three kids.” She smiles in recollection, and says, “The job was forgiving.”

But Linda’s journey as a hairdresser would take an interesting turn, this time guided by her father’s illness. When she was in her 40s, he was diagnosed with throat cancer, and she shared caregiving duties with her mother for three years until he died. It was then that she realized she wanted to do something with cancer. She just didn’t quite know what.

So when her friend invited her to an American Cancer Society meeting, she went. But the group discussed fundraising and arranging geraniums—and Linda knew that wasn’t for her. She briefly touches her dark metal eye glass frames. “I knew I wanted to be involved with cancer patients. And even though I’d had no experience except with my parents, I just knew that I wanted to be hands-on.”

She explored her options, and found that the American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery, driving people to doctor appointments, was right for her. She also joined ACS’s Look Good, Feel Better program, helping women manage their makeup, skin, and nails during treatment. The wig program grew out of Look Good, Feel Better. At first, she fitted women at the ACS offices.

Even as she worked in this program she began to prepare for another hands-on activity: training her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel to be a therapy dog. She flips through photos on her phone to show her dog in his very successful job.

And now, Linda is the mistress of women’s wigs at the Cancer Support Community’s sparkling Wig Salon. Three years ago, when CSC began partnering with the American Cancer Society to distribute wigs at no cost, Linda came on board, as an ACS rep. Since the wig room initially opened in November 2016, 196 people have come, 195 of whom are women.

But Linda is more than just the keeper of the wigs. She is an advisor, a listener, a confident. Because a wig is not just about locks of hair strewn across a head in pretty colors and shapes. It is about confidence, control, normalcy. In the midst of chaos.

She suggests that as a woman begins losing her hair, she has her hairdresser cut it off—not shave it because her scalp will be too sensitive. This way, the woman controls the loss; she doesn’t watch it fall out in one horrifying moment.

Linda keeps 50 wigs on hand, and when inventory dips, places another order. Then small white boxes that look as if they held ballet slippers, arrive, each filled with a wig, and Linda slides them onto the shelves or carefully unpacks some and places them on the Styrofoam mannequin head forms on the counter top.

Short blond, long black, long brown, short brown…

Though synthetic, the hair falls gracefully on each form, and cannot easily be restyled. Owners wash them weekly, and let them air dry. They are quite heat sensitive—and a hair dryer or a hot stove top can be their undoing. In fact, they’re so sensitive that Linda gives a turban to each women to use while cooking and sleeping.

The Wig Room was transformed into a Wig Salon in 2018 when the Saucon Valley Country Club women golfers raised funds and redesigned it. The designers replaced the dark wood furniture donated by a bank with pristine white shelving, white floors and shelves, a crystal chandelier and tan love seat lined with decorative pillows. Framed inspirational sayings dot the walls.

And this is where Linda is—two days a week, by appointment.

“It makes me happy when someone lights up after coming in. Many of the women wear their wigs home,” says Linda, her own streaked blond hair glinting in the light. “When a woman arrives, I ask where she is in her treatment so I can gauge her hair loss. That way, I can fit the wig properly. Some women come before they start to lose their hair, others when they’re in the middle of it.” Linda fiddles with her silver pinky ring.

“They slip on a cap so that the wigs stay clean, and try on many styles. But I advise them not to get anything too different from their own hair. If someone comes in after she’s lost her hair, I ask to see a photo of her before.” In Linda’s view, a woman should try to match her own hair color and style. Again, a sense of normalcy.

“In the midst of treatment,” she continues, “they want to see ‘me’ again.” And they want privacy. “They don’t necessarily want others to know they’re wearing a wig, especially if kids are involved.

“I try to give people confidence when they come here. I listen. Lots of people just want to talk. So, why not talk to me? I talk about wigs. But, if they want, they can talk about anything else. I am used to listening. I was a hairdresser for 45 years.” Linda crosses one black-clad leg over another.

She smiles broadly. “Eight women came in this week. The Wig Salon is growing, and it’s for all women.” In fact, almost two-thirds of the women who come to the Wig Salon are over 60; 20% in their 50s, and 16% in their 40s or younger.

Tracing her fingers along the side of the counter top, she stops at a Styrofoam form. Gently she adjusts a wig. This, then, has been her journey.


What’s a Man to Do?

Generally, men don’t like losing their hair, but what they dislike more is losing their facial hair—the carefully tended beard or side burns. Officially, the American Cancer Society doesn’t supply wigs for men. But last October, a man came to the Salon, and Linda was able to order one for him, matching his former hair style and color.