Related topics

From fake breasts to hats, cancer victims get one-stop shopping

March 5, 1997

CHICAGO (AP) _ About to lose her hair from cancer treatment, corporate banker Liz Cohen went wig-shopping at Magic & Vanity and noticed a strikingly beautiful woman working behind the counter.

She felt a bit self-conscious, until the woman whipped off her wig and showed she was bald.

``It really dispelled all my `ugly’ images,″ Cohen said. ``I’m going to lose my eyelashes and eyebrows. I don’t want to go into a place ... go to the employee and go `I’m going through chemotherapy, and I have to learn to draw eyebrows.‴

Magic & Vanity is one of about 200 stores in the country catering to women with cancer, far more than a few years ago, according to the Women’s Health Network _ a coalition of independent boutiques.

Opened by Lisa Kaplan-Melnick, Magic & Vanity specializes in items that mask the results of cancer treatment, featuring high-cut bathing suits to cover mastectomy scars and hats with hair bangs.

Kaplan-Melnick, who went through chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, knows what it is like to face the public without hair.

``Salespeople were too busy staring at my bald head to wait on me,″ she said.

Kaplan-Melnick’s customers include burn victims as well as cancer patients, but the goal is the same: make customers feel at ease.

``It’s OK to lose your hair here,″ Kaplan-Melnick said as she modeled a beret that covered the nape of her neck and sides of her head. ``You don’t have to apologize if you leave your hair in a hat.″

The United States has more than 1.6 million breast cancer survivors, according to the American Cancer Society. This year, nearly 600,000 women will be diagnosed with cancer _ about 30 percent of whom will have breast cancer, the group said.

For many, the prospect of a drastic change in appearance can be distressful. Stores that cater to them are helpful, said Emily Downward of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in Dallas.

``Such stores really emphasize the positive, and, you know, try to encourage the woman that she still is as beautiful even though she doesn’t have her hair and eyelashes,″ Downward said.

Magic & Vanity offers an array of products including wigs in myriad styles and colors ($180), prosthetic breasts ($175 to $500), and breezy dresses loose enough to conceal chemotherapy pouches or bellies distended from liver or ovarian cancer ($150).

Kaplan-Melnick and her employees also show women how to apply makeup to skin that flakes off or is blotchy and sensitive because of chemotherapy.

Dr. Anne McCall, a radiation oncologist at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill., said patients need to feel good about themselves.

The stores appear to be one way of doing that.

``We can’t assume that just because we cure someone of their cancer that we can ignore the side effects of the treatment that cured the disease,″ she said.

Update hourly