O'Fallon Progress

If chemo is taking your hair, these folks can help

When Kelly Shanks started losing her hair during chemotherapy, Refinery Salon in O’Fallon was recommended. Refinery Salon provides wigs to cancer patients through the American Cancer Society.
When Kelly Shanks started losing her hair during chemotherapy, Refinery Salon in O’Fallon was recommended. Refinery Salon provides wigs to cancer patients through the American Cancer Society.

For hair stylist Sione LaPointe, breast cancer was a life-changing event. She brought that perspective to working at Refinery Salon in O’Fallon, which houses the only area wig bank for cancer patients.

Owner Whitney Leidner said LaPointe had heard through a friend that the American Cancer Society was looking for a local salon to use for the wig program.

“I was able to give back, and I know Whitney was interested in giving back to the community,” LaPointe said.

The new wigs are free regardless of income or health insurance. Anyone who had treatment that caused hair loss is eligible for one wig every rolling 12 months while in treatment. It was set up for patients to cope with appearance-related side effects.

“We treat them special; we don’t treat them different,” Leidner said.

The salon, which has been open since 2014, has a private room featuring a wide selection of wigs. The program is by appointment only.

“To let people know they’re not alone is important,” LaPointe said. “Cancer is one of those things that no matter what stage, no matter how serious, it scares you. I was lucky, everything lined up. But I had a hard time with treatment.”

LaPointe said the outpouring of concern and kindness was overwhelming. That’s why participating in this program is special.

“I met amazing people when I was going through my treatment, there was such kindness — from complete and total strangers, and it was staggering, especially with all the bad stuff in the world,” she said.

Cancer is one of those things that no matter what stage, no matter how serious, it scares you.

Sione LaPointe, hair stylist at Refinery Salon

When Kelly Shanks started losing her hair during chemotherapy, Refinery Salon was recommended.

Shanks, 49, was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2015 and had a double mastectomy the next month. Her hair fell out that October.

“I think so many things aren’t covered by insurance, and there is a crushing amount of expenses. It can be a financial burden, especially if you can’t work a lot during treatment and have all kinds of expenses,” she said.

Shanks was grateful not only for the service, but for the kindness during a difficult time.

“The way they treat you is so awesome, and so kind and considerate,” she said. “To have this little relief, just to have something to look normal in public so you don’t get that cancer pity look, is really nice.”

Shanks said Leidner measured her head, measured the wig for her face, and cut it around her face.

“To have a fun day in the middle of all that hell, I appreciated it so much,” she said.

The way they treat you is so awesome, and so kind and considerate.

Kelly Shanks, breast cancer survivor

Leidner said stylist Dani Groothuis primarily works with the patients now.

“She takes them to the back room, she measures their head and shows them the different options. We tell them to not try to match their color perfectly, so that it’s not so obvious. Some go longer, some go shorter. It’s like plastic surgery patients who get their hair colored or cut differently so people think that’s what’s different — that they are fixing their hair differently,” Leidner said.

“They can walk out that day with the wig, or if we have to special order, it can take two weeks,” she said.

And some women prefer no adornment, or to be able to choose their look.

“I went back and she shaved my head for me. My sister (Lisa Reilmann) shaved her head in solidarity. We made an event out of it,” Shanks said.

Because one of the chemo drugs causes permanent hair loss, Shanks said most of her hair is gone. She wears her hair short now, or will don the wig, depending on the occasion.

Shanks works as a financial medical coder at Jefferson Barracks’ veterans division and has been in remission since November. She and her husband Jeff currently live in Swansea, but had previously lived in O’Fallon.

LaPointe, whose grandmother had a farm in O’Fallon that is more than 150 years old, was working as a gallery buyer in Chicago when she decided to change careers.

She moved to Puerto Rico and was working as a bartender when she found out she had breast cancer. That was four years ago. She had always wanted to go to hair school and decided to act on that passion.

“While I was sick, it was a really quiet time in my life. I took stock of my life, what I was passionate about. Until it happens to you, or someone in your family, you don’t realize what a hard time it is,” she said. “I thought I might have 40 years left or five, so I shouldn’t wait.”

LaPointe said that people with cancer need help, and for someone to accept help is a humbling experience.

“It shows you how much we need each other, and how we can come together as a community,” she said. “I’m very grateful for the better. It has changed my perspective on everything.”

Refinery Salon is located at 115 E. First St. in O’Fallon. For more information, call 618-589-1880. American Cancer Society can be reached toll-free at 800-227-2345.

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