Cancer, burn patients to benefit from pilot program

A new pilot program at John H. Stroger hospital is allowing cancer and burn patients to receive free consultation from a hair stylist about how to cope with their hair loss. Lillian Howard, 30, not only consulted one burn victim on her options but also de

“I can’t tell you what wonders it did for me to receive help from her,” said Dorthea Lovelance, 26, whose scalp was burned when she was a child. “Now when people look at me I know it’s because they like my hair not because I look weird.” Lovelance lost her hair at age 5 when a boy she was playing with set her hair on fire.

“I remember playing with his water gun and wouldn’t give it back to him,” Lovelace told the Defender. “I don’t think he knew what he was doing. But before I knew it, my hair had caught fire.” Up until now Lovelance had worn one wig after another always wondering if the wind would blow it away.

She no longer wears wigs, instead, she wears a custom-made hairpiece that is attached to her scalp. “Now I can wash my hair and run my fingers through my hair without any worries,” she said. “While I could wash my own hair or wait until 30 days before getting my hair done, I chose to go every two weeks for a touch up.”

Howard volunteers two days a week at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital, working with cancer and burn patients. “This is what I do. I am in the business of making people feel good about how they look,” she said. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and there’s no better morale booster for a woman than her hair.”

Howard opened the Lillian Dion hair salon, 1020 S. Wabash Ave., in February 2007 after doing hair out of her home for the last eight years. “I love what I do and I am good at what I do too,” she added. “My goal working at Stroger is to focus on their emotional needs first before replacing their hair.”

The program, which began this month, is still in its early stages so Howard is only seeing about 12 patients a week-with a goal of seeing 150 a year, said Sean Howard, director of communications for John H. Stroger Hospital.

“Certainly we want to take advantage of Ms. Howard’s expertise in dealing with hair loss and her ability to consult patients about their options,” he said. “And because we are a public hospital most of our patients do not have the financial means to pay for hair restoration.” He added that the county plans to apply for grants to offset the cost for hairpieces, which can be expensive.

But the cost to upkeep their hair will not be covered by the grants so patients will have to foot that bill themselves. Lovelace said she paid $1,800 for her hairpiece and spends $125 every two weeks for a touch up. Dr. Nathaniel Holloway, chair of the radiation department for the Cook County Bureau of Health Services, said 50 percent of their cancer patients are Black.

“We see about 5, 000 patients a year in radiation so we’re very busy,” he said. “I don’t know of any other public hospital with this kind of program or who sees this amount of cancer patients each year.” Howard takes her volunteer work at Stroger personally, following the death of her grandmother to cancer.

“My grandmother lost her hair due to chemotherapy for breast cancer and ever since then, I have had an interest in working with cancer patients, regardless of color,” Howard said. “And it does not matter what color the patient is because it’s a [hair] style for every one and I can work with all hair textures from Black to white.”

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