Stylist teams with St. Elizabeth Hospital to provide wigs for patients who lose hair

APPLETON — Rebecca Hurst recalls the words of a 16-year-old girl battling cancer when she was asked what the hardest part was about cancer and the treatment she was undergoing.

Rebecca Hurst, lead stylist at Joy, A Hair Studio, located next to St. Elizabeth Hospital Cancer Center, stands near a display of wigs, which are provided to women who experience hair loss due to cancer and other medical issues. (Amanda Lauer | For The Compass)

“She said it was losing her hair,” said Hurst, lead stylist at Joy, A Hair Studio, located adjacent to the St. Elizabeth Hospital Cancer Center. “That really surprised me. It wasn’t that she was sick, and it wasn’t that she couldn’t go to school and be involved in all the activities that her friends were in, it was that she wanted her hair.

“That was really a big testament to how important this is,” added Hurst, whose hair studio supplies wigs and head coverings for females of any age experiencing hair loss. Joy, A Hair Studio opened March 28, 2017.

“In the first five months we served about 50 new clients,” she said. “We put about 40 people into wigs. We are fully funded through philanthropy and donations. Our philosophy is serving those in need. We don’t turn anyone away if they don’t have the ability to pay. People pay what they can afford to pay.”

Tonya Dedering, regional director of philanthropy for St. Elizabeth Hospital Foundation and Mercy Health Foundation, part of Ascension Wisconsin, talked about the studio that was years in the making. “Joy, a Hair Studio is at the center of our long-term vision to meet the needs of patients by providing holistic care to treat the whole person,” she said. “We are grateful for the community’s support of the studio.”

The St. Elizabeth Hospital Foundation’s 22nd annual Women’s Golf and Luncheon Benefit raised over $114,000 in 2014 to fund the construction and start-up of the studio .

A former client of Hurst’s, who works in the cancer center at St. Elizabeth’s, reached out to her more than a year ago to see if she could take over the project and move it forward. Hurst turned out to be the ideal person to run the studio. She has been a hair stylist for 20 years, owns her own studio in Appleton, and has experience working with wigs. Like many people, her life has been touched by cancer.

“My former husband passed away from cancer. My parents are both cancer survivors and three of my four grandparents died from cancer,” said Hurst. “I decided last year I wanted to implement wigs into my own business because I always had this interest helping towards cancer and because my daughter, who has Crohn’s disease, has suffered hair loss from medication and malnutrition. That inspired me to learn about wigs and hair pieces and see how I could implement that into my business and help people.”

At the studio they offer mostly synthetic wigs for their clients because of ease of care and the price point. “The average synthetic wig is somewhere between $100 and $150. You wash them, air dry them, you comb through them to maintain the style. They maintain their style but they can be steamed and restyled to some degree.”

Like any salon, Hurst offers haircuts for her clients as well. “We do head shaving, and I do haircuts for people as they’re starting their treatment. A lot of people choose to cut their hair short to get used to not having as much hair around their face.”

Scarves and other head coverings are available as well. “We do have a lot of people that knit hats and make scarves and donate them. Those we can give to people,” she said. Some wigs are donated, such as when manufacturers discontinue styles. “Those are wigs that we can give to people for free without any question at all.”

Wigs are available in a variety of sizes, styles and colors. “I do consultations by appointment. We try to keep our overhead low so I have a small selection of wigs, 15 to 20, that I can show,” said Hurst. She is able to alter the wigs and customize them to fit. “I do have the ability to get petite wigs and children’s sizes so it’s something that we offer, too.”

A second wig salon, in connection with the Michael D. Wachtel Cancer Center at Mercy Medical Center in Oshkosh, called Oasis, is in the works. Hurst will be the lead stylist and wig specialist there as well.

“I feel so honored and privileged to be working with people in this capacity,” said Hurst. “I can take a skill that I have and help people with it. I didn’t know how this would affect me working with people in this capacity, but at the end of each and every day that I’m here I feel charged up. I really get to see that there’s hope in every day and that there’s life in every day.”