With so much to think about when diagnosed with cancer, women often are not prepared for the self-image problems that can come along with all the other physical ailments. That is why the Torrance Memorial Medical Center Luminaries-a group founded in 1990 by five women desiring to support the hospital through volunteer hours and by raising money to benefit the hospital's programs-started
Woman to Woman.
Working in conjunction with the Torrance Memorial Hunt Cancer Institute, this image-enhancement program started back in 1998 to help women experiencing hair loss and other appearance changes resulting from illness or its treatment. It gives these women the opportunity to learn techniques to enhance their appearance and feel attractive.
While most of the women who seek Woman to Woman services are undergoing radiation or chemotherapy, others have shaved heads from surgery or have lost hair for hormonal or medication reasons related to other illnesses. "We supply a head scarf and turban to any woman with a medical need," says Paula Bauer, RN, MSN, OCN, advanced clinical nurse educator at Torrance Memorial's Cancer Resource Center.
Bauer meets with Luminaries who are interested in the program and helps train them on common emotional challenges these women may be facing. "They [Luminaries] are caring and motivated people, so training is easy."
On an appointment basis, the trained Luminaries meet one-on-one with women in the Image Enhancement Center, a tastefully decorated and private room that is part of HealthLinks at the first floor of the hospital's West Tower. In addition to receiving lots of encouragement and a printed community resources guide, the women are given instruction in the use of scarves and hats and fitted for a wig liner-something that goes between the wig and scalp to avoid tenderness. The
Image Enhancement Center can also order a variety of hairpieces that many female cancer patients prefer instead of a full wig. This unique program, which received a Special Recognition Award from the California Division of the American Cancer Society, is one of only two in the greater Los Angeles area and has been used as a model for similar programs.
Bauer says the hardest part of the program is ongoing promotion and making sure patients in the community know about the program. "Timing is everything, because it's the type of service people tend not to pay any attention to until they or a loved one are suddenly confronted with treatment-related hair loss. It's a constant endeavor to maintain program awareness and visibility to the women who need it." The Woman to Woman Image Enhancement Center sees about 100 women annually.
Woman to Woman services are free of charge to anyone in the community.