Terethia Goulding models her newly coiffed wig in the UMMC Cancer Institute Patient Resource Center.
Terethia Goulding models her newly coiffed wig in the UMMC Cancer Institute Patient Resource Center.
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Wigs help women leap one of cancer’s obstacles

Published on Monday, December 11, 2017

By: Cynthia Wall

When cancer treatment took her hair, Terethia Goulding of Tupelo turned to the University of Mississippi Medical Center Cancer Institute’s Patient Resource Center for help.

There, she said, a donated wig gave her hope. “It made me feel better about myself,” she said recently.

She wore it home that day, she said. “Then, I wore it to church, that’s the first place I wore it.

“I got a lot of comments on it. Everybody liked it.”

The wig restored some normalcy, she said. “I could take that scarf off my head and didn’t have to worry about people looking at me all strange and funny because I didn’t have hair,” said Goulding, who is being treated for leukemia.

Janice Johnson, manager of the Resource Center, said she never tires of seeing the transformation a little hair can make. Women may enter with heads down and eyes lowered but leave laughing and greeting others in the center.

The transformation can boost the entire family. For example, recently a young man escorted his mother, her head down and giving monosyllabic answers into the wig room. He left to run an errand. When he returned, she was wearing her wig, making eye contact and talking to the people nearby. His eyes widened and he quietly stepped aside, wiped his eyes before turning back and greeting his mother smile for smile and laugh for laugh.

Johnson said those transformations are common. “All the time, it happens all the time,” she said.

Someone inquiries about a wig, a scarf, a cap or a knit hat on almost a daily basis. All items are given free to Cancer Institute patients.  On average, Johnson helps 15 to 20 patients a month select, try on and style wigs.

She tries to keep enough wigs for at least one for each woman who needs one. Women who lose their hair to chemotherapy or radiation therapy are her usual clients. Men usually ask for caps or, in winter, more masculine-colored knit hats.

“We do need men’s caps too,” she said. “If someone makes them in camouflage I always save them for the guys.”

“It is not clear that having a wig will add any time to whatever we as oncologists can do for a patient,” said Dr. John Ruckdeschel, Cancer Institute director and professor of medicine.

“It makes all of the time they have, be it months or years, fuller and more blessed, enhancing the day to day interactions that make life worth living.”

Wigs do boost a patient’s self-esteem and help them maintain a positive attitude, said Dr. Carolyn Bigelow, professor of hematology/oncology, who works with many leukemia patients.

“A positive attitude can help them get through some parts of chemotherapy,” she said.

UMMC Public Affairs assistant director of media relations, Ruth Cummins and her siblings donated 10 wigs that had belonged to her mother, who died of liver cancer last year. Janice Johnson, manager of the Cancer Institute Patient Resource Center, oversees the wig room.
Janice Johnson, standing, overseer of the wig room, receives 10 wigs donated by Ruth Cummins, assistant director for media relations, and her siblings. The wigs belonged to their mother, Sonia Riffle Ingram.

Items are donated or purchased with funds raised by Cancer Institute staff. Many come from people who have seen cancer ravage a family member. That was the case for Ruth Cummins, a member of the UMMC Public Affairs staff. She and her siblings donated 10 wigs after her mother, Sonia Riffle Ingram, died of liver cancer in December, 2016.

“Our mom always loved wigs.  She didn’t wear them but she loved to collect them,” Cummins said.

“Her disease progressed so quickly she never lost her hair but we knew if she had, her wigs would have been there for her. We believed that Mom would have loved for women with cancer who lost their hair to enjoy her wigs. She would have been tickled to see women like her getting joy from her wigs.”

The wigs are life changers for many women but a few choose to swagger the sleekness of a bald head. “They’re just beautiful,” Johnson said.  For those who find familiarity in hair, she’s seeking donations.

She’s arranged with a Jackson cosmetology school to clean and make minor repairs to gently used wigs.

You can help women at the UMMC Cancer Institute who are battling cancer by taking part in 100 Wigs for 100 Women, an afternoon of camaraderie and entertainment set for Saturday, Dec. 16.

The free event, at 1-3 p.m. at Tougaloo College, benefits the Cancer Institute, a part of Mississippi’s only academic medical center. Guests are asked to bring at least one new wig for donation to patients who have lost their hair during treatment. Accessories or jewelry that can be worn with wigs also are appreciated. Light refreshments and desserts will be served.

Preregistration is required; email  for more information.  Help UMMC to help cancer patients with an area of their recovery that’s often overlooked.