When Maria Reilly found out she had stage-four breast cancer, she immediately thought of what her family would go through.
“It was really important for me as a patient to feel like I didn’t look sick and, also, for my family,” she says. “After the hospital told me I would lose my hair two to three weeks after treatment, my mom turned to me and said, ‘Maria, you’re going to have to find a solution because I can’t see you like that.’ And I said, ‘I know, I don’t want to see myself like that.’”
Hair loss during cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation, can be a painful, visible reminder of illness. The process of losing hair can take days or even weeks.
Patients sometimes turn to wigs or other temporary hair solutions in times like these.
“It seems like it’s not a big deal but it does so much for your morale and for your self-esteem,” Reilly says. “It just helps you get through your whole cancer treatment because you don’t feel like you look sick.”
In recent years, people who don’t want to feel like they look sick have made their way to Chuck Aflieri Thin Hair Solutions. The group works with cancer patients such as Reilly to make their journey a little easier by taking control of their hair loss during treatment. The family-owned business has been around since 1946, when it made wigs for Hollywood. Work with cancer patients began a few years ago. Like Reilly, most patients Alfieri and his team treat have been recommended by the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“When a woman is diagnosed with cancer, she is psychologically shattered,” Alfieri says. “If we could keep that person in a positive outlook, that’s medicine in itself.
“I’ll be honest with you, out of all the things we do, I feel most rewarded working with cancer patients and seeing that person just come back to life. It feels amazing.”
Alfieri works with clients in all stages of cancer treatment. He uses vendors in Europe to create high-end, hand-sewn wigs made from human hair to replicate the clients’ natural hair.
“That woman now will never see herself without hair. So we bypass that whole hair loss experience that she will go through,” Alfieri says.
When the wig is ready, Alfieri invites the client to sit in a room with the mirrors covered as the process begins. “He said, ‘You’ll walk out the same way you walked in,’ and that’s exactly how it was,” Reilly says. Once treatment is over and a client’s hair starts growing back, Alfieri’s work isn’t done. This is when the “intense hair regrowth treatment” begins.
As soon as the hair grows about two inches, he removes the wig and attaches micro extensions. These types of extensions allow the hair to grow faster compared to average extensions because they’re light and don’t pull on the scalp.
The overall process can be a long one, and people get to know each other.
“We get them in here once a week or twice a month, and we’ve built this little community of women who are going through the same thing,” Alfieri says. “They’re sharing their experiences.”
Even after they’ve overcome cancer, clients often become regular customers and make frequent visits to the salon department.
“I always tell my people when they come here in my consultation, ‘Once you come here, your hair belongs to me.’ And they feel good when they think about their hair and someone else is taking control of that issue.”
Reilly, whose cancer is now in remission, is still a client. “Working with them, I can’t tell you how it made such a difference in my care, my self-esteem and my family. If you talk to my family, they will say this was a Godsend because of the fact that they didn’t have to see me with no hair.”