By Sonia Hazan

Imagine you are a cancer patient, are losing your hair and we are in pandemic mode, with no access to any of the practical resources Hope & Cope offers free of charge, such as donated wigs, scarves and turbans.

Time to panic? Not if Hope & Cope has anything to do with it! Under the guidance of Lora Tombari, Hope & Cope Office Coordinator, and experienced volunteer Danielle Patry, who used to operate her own wig salon, our Virtual Wig Program was born!

“As the owner of a wig salon, I have always enjoyed seeing the client’s eyes sparkle once properly fitted. Volunteering for Hope & Cope and the Wig Program means continuity,” says Danielle.

Danielle Patry used to operate her own wig salonKeep in mind that all Hope & Cope facilities are closed, that patient confidentiality is of utmost importance, that choosing a wig has always been an in-person, hands-on operation, and that our fairly large wig inventory is normally housed at Hope & Cope’s Resource Room at the Jewish General Hospital. Sounds daunting, right?

But with patience and diligence, a plan was put into place. Lora began by contacting the hospital’s Infection Control Team to ensure that strict safety protocols were followed. Then she gathered the clean wigs from our Resource Room as well as Laurier Macdonald Vocational Centre, where students in the hairdressing program had shampooed many of the wigs for free as part of their community service program. Lora brought all the wigs to the Wellness Centre, where Danielle combed and photographed each one in a staged environment – an extremely time-consuming and detailed process. Lora prepared a detailed description and assigned a number to each wig, creating a catalogue of our wig inventory.

Referrals to the program come from the multidisciplinary health care team at the hospital as well as Hope & Cope’s clinical staff. Lora speaks to each patient directly, asking for their permission to have a volunteer contact them. After a discussion with the patient about her preferences in terms of colour, length, texture and general look, the volunteer relays this information to Lora, who then sends the patient a few photos of suitable wigs. “The conversation with the volunteer is essential,” says Lora. “She takes the time to listen to the patient’s needs and explains the many other practical resources, services and programs Hope & Cope offers to help people cope with cancer.” Says volunteer Carol Djoury, “It’s important to listen carefully to the patient, hear what she wants and guide her.”

How to get those coveted wigs to the patient? An appointment is set up for the patient to pick up her properly labeled parcel along with instructions for the proper way to fit and care for the wig, a resource list of where to purchase additional wigs, and information about Hope & Cope. The parcel is left in a basket outside the Wellness Centre. If, for some reason, a patient is unable to come to the Centre, the wig and/or any other resources are mailed to her home.

Since mid-November, 25 happy patients have found head coverings – wigs, turbans and scarves – no contact, no dissemination of virus, satisfaction guaranteed!

Clearly the team has taken a difficult task and made it easier. “The pandemic has taken us away from our patients. I’ve enjoyed reconnecting with them through this program,” says Lora.