Cynthia Lewis, center, a UMMC cancer patient, shares a laugh with Janice Johnson, left, and Cassie King.
Cynthia Lewis, center, a UMMC cancer patient, shares a laugh with Janice Johnson, left, and Cassie King.
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UMMC, CCRI provide custom wigs, makeovers to cancer patients

Published on Thursday, December 19, 2019

By: Kate Royals

Cassie King, an employee in the human resources department at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, watched her mother battle and eventually succumb to cancer. She is familiar with the emotional and physical side effects of the diagnosis and wanted to do something to help someone affected by cancer.

King, who frequently donates to various organizations each year during the holidays, decided this year to donate a wig to a cancer patient at the Cancer Center and Research Institute. She reached out to Terrence Shirley, cancer research administrator, to tell him about her idea. Shirley had also been very closely affected by cancer as well after losing his father to the disease. He wanted to get involved, along with the Drs. Aaron and Ollye Shirley Foundation and Partners.

From left to right, make-up artist Shirley Lockett, Cassie King, Cynthia Lewis, Dwanda Moore, Audrey Smiley, Janice Johnson and Brie Kemp of Bonita Wig Boutique.
Participating in the venture are, from left, Shirley Lockett, makeup artist; King; Lewis; Dwanda Moore; Audrey Smiley; Johnson; and Brie Kemp of Bonita Wig Boutique.

The group banded together and bought 10 wigs from Bonita Wig Boutique. Shirley and Janice Johnson, who manages the CCRI patient resource center, organized a drawing and randomly selected four patients who won their own customized wig, in addition to a makeover provided by Shirley Lockett with Mary Kay Cosmetics. Another drawing for the remaining wigs will take place in February. 

“My whole idea is to make sure someone’s spirit is lifted during these times, and it evolved to what we’re doing today. Ladies going through (cancer) treatments, they’re having physical changes – hair, body, appearance, skin, self-esteem,” said King. “I am so grateful for Terrence Shirley and the Drs. Aaron and Ollye Shirley Foundation and Partners for joining with me to make this a success.”

Lewis receives the final touches of her eye makeup.
Lewis receives the final touches of her eye makeup.

King recalled one physical change she saw in her mother: chemotherapy darkened her skin tone.

Johnson echoed Moore, having seen the changes in the patients she supports at the resource center.

“Chemo totally changes your body. It changes a person” on many different levels, she said.

Custom wigs, which often become a necessity for cancer patients who lose hair during chemotherapy treatments, can be expensive. While short styles usually range from $200 to $300, others can be as high as $500.

Several weeks ago, the winners came and met with Brie Kemp of Bonita Wig Boutique for their wig consultation. Kemp fitted the wigs and the women picked out their chosen color and style. On Tuesday morning, they came back for the final fitting, in addition to a makeover from Lockett.

The women traded places in the chairs surrounding a table strewn with products and supplies, and each took turns in the back “wig room” getting their custom wig styled and trimmed. 

Dwanda Moore of Jackson was one of the first to complete her makeover. She donned a red lace dress, heels and a new, natural look.

Moore before, right, and after her makeover.
Moore poses for her "before" and "after" photos.

Moore was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer in 2015, and it was a complete shock. There was no genetic component, and she recalls her doctor saying aside from the cancer, Moore, a fitness instructor at the time, was one of the fittest people she knew.

Since then, she has been through six rounds of chemotherapy, 45 rounds of radiation and a surgery.

“After all that I am still here, and I’m doing fine,” she said with a smile. “It’s been a journey.” 

She has called on the patient resource center and Johnson throughout that journey, and she said the center has been exactly what it intends to be: a resource. The rooms in the center are packed with books, DVDs and pamphlets about all different types of cancer, in addition to wigs, caps and donated items such as blankets for use during chemo treatments.

And if what a patient is looking for isn’t in the room, Johnson makes it a priority to find and get it.

“Coming in here to see Mrs. Janice and the resource center as a whole – she was so helpful,” Moore said. “ … If Mrs. Janice doesn’t have it here or know (the answer) right off, she will make every attempt possible to get you the information you need and follow up with you when you’re at your next appointment.”

Shirley also recognizes the importance of the resource center and is behind any effort to raise patients’ awareness about it.

“Seeing how people come in through the Cancer Institute struggling both emotionally and physically and not realizing the resource center offers more than books,” he said.

Lewis before, right, and after her makeover.
Lewis before and after her makeover and new wig.

But when they stop in and get a new wig or cap, it can make a difference in how they feel.

“And the hope is if you feel better, you’ll do better,” he said.

Recently, Moore had come in to the center as usual to ask a question and Johnson suggested she enter the drawing. To her surprise, she later got the call that she had won.

Moore wanted a look that was simple and natural. Her short, wavy hair is just that, and her makeup is light and flattering.

“I’m not one of those that wear a lot of makeup, so not only does this look natural, it feels natural,” she said of Lockett’s work. “And I’m really pleased with the hair – I’ve never been one of those who wear crazy styles all the time so I wanted something that looked natural and I could pull it back into a baseball cap if I wanted to.”

Cynthia Lewis also received the shock of her life after a fairly routine appointment with her gynecologist. The doctor discovered a lump in her right breast, which led her to the UMMC Cancer Center and Research Institute.

“Everybody at UMMC has been wonderful. Totally wonderful,” she said. “It’s been a year and I am cancer free.”

She gets emotional talking about the care she received during her illness and the day’s makeover event.

Smiley before and after her makeover.
Smiley before and after her makeover from the UMMC Cancer Center and Research Institute.

“It’s just amazing that you don’t know people… and they really care about you. People you’ve never seen before, they will call you and see if you need anything,” she said, wiping her eyes.

Once the makeovers were complete, Lewis and Moore, along with fellow participant Audrey Smiley, donned their new looks during a walk through the clinic’s large waiting room. They were received with understanding and admiration – people who did not know them but understood and cared for them regardless.