LISLE – Naperville resident Janice Groenewold didn't start losing her hair until her third chemotherapy treatment, but by that time it was coming out in handfuls.
She quickly decided to shave the rest of it off and made an appointment at an American Cancer Society wig boutique, which provided her with both a fitting and a wig free of charge.
Groenewold, 77, was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in Decemeber 2013.
Like all the other oncology patients at the Dupage Medical Group, located on Warrenville Road in Lisle, she was eligible to receive a free wig and personalized fitting at the American Cancer Society boutique.
The society partners with medical providers across the country to offer the service.
Though a patient at the DuPage Medical Group, Groenewold chose to have her fitting at the society's wig boutique at Central DuPage Hospital, where her friend was volunteering.
A wig boutique supported by the society has existed in the group's Lisle location since the building opened in early 2013.
The society provides the wigs and volunteers, "and we provide the space," said Corie Rectenwald, supervisor of practice operations for the group's Cancer Resource Center.
Located in the center, the boutique is set apart from the rest of the building and has less of a clinical feeling, Rectenwald said.
From January 2013 to April 2014, 112 patients used the free service, which also provides scarves and hats, she said. Hair loss is a common side effect of chemotherapy and the reason most patients use the service.
"It's an important service because cancer, the disease itself and the treatment, can take a lot away from people," Rectenwald said. "They probably won't feel well throughout their treatment and this is a way we can give back to them some of their identity, make them feel a little bit more like themselves – just give them a boost they might be needing as a result of going through a health crisis."
In early January 2014, Groenewold had surgery to remove the cancerous tissue. The operation was followed by four sessions of chemotherapy.
"Now I'm doing radiation," Groenewold said.
She said she is feeling "really good" and her doctors are positive the cancer has been fully removed.
Her hair has begun to grow back.
During her appointment at the boutique, Groenewold said she "must have tried on about 10 or 15 wigs, and I really liked two and finally narrowed it down to one."
"It's kind of nice, because at first you're kind of self-conscious about a bald head," Groenewold said. "I was. But it was nice to have it be a private room so everyone walking by didn't look in."
The fitting was an uplifting experience, she said.
"The workshop they have, too, is called 'feel better' and that's exactly what that does for you," she said. "If you look good, you do feel better."
Rectenwald said the service is a way for health providers such as DuPage Medical Group to treat the whole patient, not just their disease.
"With all of our support services, that is what we are trying to accomplish," she said. "To let patients know we care for them as individuals with needs beyond just coming here for chemotherapy or radiation or followup services with their doctors."
Even to people who say they have had cancer before and tried a wig and couldn't stand it, Groenewald says perhaps they weren't fitted properly.
"I suggest you go see what they've got," she said.