WJSU-FM recently provided nearly 80 wigs to the American Cancer Society to help uninsured women with cancer cope with the loss of hair from chemotherapy and offered makeovers from the Magnolia School of Cosmetology.
The Beauty of Cancer Wig Project was held Thursday, June 14, during a Reveal and Presentation Party at the Amour near Jackson State University.
WJSU general manager Gina Carter-Simmers, a breast cancer survivor, was the organizer. Although she was unable to attend the event due to illness, her remarks were shared with the audience.
Carter-Simmers, describing herself as a Stage IV metastatic cancer survivor, said, “It’s funny that of all I’ve been through – fighting breast cancer twice, eight months of chemo and currently going through immunotherapy – what I actually cried about was losing my hair twice. Sounds funny. I knew it would fall out twice, and I cried both times.”FURTHERMORE, she said, “It took me awhile to rationalize this because it was not physically painful to lose my hair. Then it hit me as to why I was crying: I am a cancer patient. When you lose your hair everyone now knows you’re sick. But let’s not use the word sick, let’s use ‘survivor.’ In fact let’s have only positivity in our journey moving forward. That’s how you beat cancer.”
Sylvia Watley, a breast cancer survivor and part-time JSU employee in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, helped facilitate the event. She said she was able to deal with her fears because of support from Carter-Simmers.
“Gina was diagnosed with breast cancer a year before I was. Ironically, we kind of have the same type. … She has been the most inspirational person I know,” Watley said. “In my first round of treatment I lost my hair, and I actually still don’t have any hair.”
She recalled that her oncologist told her that after the treatment she would lose her hair, but “I was like, ‘That’s not going to happen.’ … I had seen Gina go through the wig stage and the shaved head stage. … Gina got to the point to where it was like, ‘My hair is not who I am.’ I had to work to get to that point.”WATLEY still struggles and said she can never see herself going to a grocery store, church or work without a wig. “Losing my hair was traumatic for me as it is for any cancer patient.”
In October, Carter-Simmers presented the Beauty of Cancer photo exhibit that showcased 23 female breast cancer survivors. Watley was diagnosed a month earlier, but she didn’t tell Carter-Simmers because “she internalizes things; she would have taken it in.” Instead, Watley waited until after the exhibit.
Upon learning of Watley’s diagnosis, Carter-Simmers cried because she didn’t want anyone else going through such a battle.
“As well, the wig project is an offspring of that,” said Watley, hailing Carter-Simmers for helping uninsured cancer patients. “I have insurance, so I can get a free wig.”
However, Watley bemoans that some women must fend for themselves, but “that’s where the American Cancer Society comes in.”
The sad truth, Watley said, is that African-American women don’t get mammograms as often as their female counterparts, making the results for them even more devastating.
Oddly, she said she did everything right but still developed breast cancer, which does not run in her family. She didn’t have the typical breast tissue that leads to the disease, and “I wasn’t overweight; I exercised; I didn’t smoke or drink.”DESPITE the side-effects of treatment that robbed her of her hair, Watley said WJSU’s Wig Project is collaborating with the American Cancer Society to repair women’s self-esteem.
Wendy Hutchins is community development manager for the local cancer organization. Part of her job is to work with cancer survivors throughout the tri-county area. She also works with federally qualified health centers throughout the state to get women the right assistance.
“These are not just wigs, they’re gifts of love,” Hutchins said. “This is one of the greatest parts of my job. When they come in they’re feeling kind of down. But they leave happy. They realize they’re beautiful. They have hope. They have confidence. Basically, women look good when they feel good about themselves.”
Another breast cancer survivor also credits Carter-Simmers for inspiring her.
Chandra Swan is a health and physical education teacher and head girl’s basketball coach at Germantown Middle School. A woman’s hair is important, she said. “Sometimes, they lose confidence as they lose hair. There are so many women who don’t have the means. … It’s important that we support this cause and give back and make sure these women are loved.”
Swan said her fear became more prevalent when she first learned of her diagnosis. “My second emotion was anger because I could see ways that I could have brought this on myself – poor diet, chasing dreams, chasing money, chasing jobs and not necessarily taking care of myself. This diagnosis has helped me bring a lot of things into perspective.”
Now, Swan is “taking time to smell the roses and not forgetting friends and family and doing those things to care about me.” Today, her regimen consists of exercising and eating right. “Even though some things are not preventable, a lot of times there are things we can do on our end.” … Despite her fear and anger, she said her belief in God gives her hope that she’s “healed by his stripes.”CARTER-SIMMER’S youngest sister, Juan Macon, said her family is rallying around her eldest sibling, who wants women age 40 and above to get annual mammograms and regular exams. “This is important for early detection and could save your life,” Macon warned.
“Donate time and money to the local American Cancer Society. … It helps survivors with hotels when they have to travel back and forth to the doctor and helps with travel and medicine. As well, money goes toward research, so one day we will not have to have this conversation about cancer.”
Macon said Gina started the wig project because “our hair makes us feel good. And, when we feel good we look good, and when we look good we can do great things in our communities.”
Meanwhile, makeovers during the Wig Project were provided by Magnolia School of Cosmetology.
Kenneth Brown, director of education at the cosmetology school, said, “We’re always looking for different events to give back to the community. … Breast cancer is a special cause because a lot of my family has been inflicted by breast cancer as well as some of our students.”
Additionally, he said, “We want to show our students and the community there is a way of tackling and battling different illness or diseases. … In the beauty industry it’s our job to lift morale and spirits so these women know there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
In her closing remarks, Carter-Simmers shared with other survivors that “I’m imagining you proudly wearing this wig, and you look amazing. Smile until your mouth is sore. Cancer loves stress so show him something different – a glamazon.”
For those interested in helping, wigs may be donated to WJSU-FM at the Mississippi e-Center@JSU, 1230 Raymond Road, Jackson, Miss. 39204. Also, you may contact Sylvia Watley at 601-979-2151.
— Jackson State U. (@JacksonStateU) June 22, 2018