How does a cancer patient prepare for hair loss? “I don’t think any woman ever is prepared,” announces Hair Restoration Specialist Maggie Varney. The licensed cosmetologist and facilitator for the American Cancer Society’s “Look Good, Feel Better” program, was a featured guest on The Breast of Everything podcast, hosted by Comprehensive Breast Care Surgeon Ashley Richardson, DO, FACOS. She talks about the importance of women feeling a sense of normalcy during their cancer treatment and how they can make that happen. Women go through surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, but when they start losing their hair, they are telling the world they have cancer; they can’t hide it anymore. “This is such a struggle for women because they want to keep looking good and feeling good,” Maggie says. In this podcast, she provides tips on headwear, wigs, makeup and skin care – including manicure and pedicures.
Celebrate your life … every day, Maggie tells cancer patients, and she can help them celebrate by looking good and feeling good.
Welcome to the breast of everything podcast your trusted resource for breast health information support and encouragement. Your host today is Dr. Ashley Richardson of comprehensive breast care. Welcome.
Dr. Ashley Richardson 0:15
Welcome to the breast of everything podcast. I am Dr. Asha Richardson of comprehensive breast care. I am happy to introduce Maggie Varney, a licensed cosmetologist and facilitator for the American Cancer Society's look good feel better program. Maggie is a hair restoration specialist, the president and owner of goGreen salon and founder and CEO of Maggie's Wigs for Kids of Michigan, which is a nonprofit organization that provides wigs and support services at no charge to children ages three through 18 throughout the state of Michigan. She has worked with cancer patients for over 30 years and recently created her own workshop called Creating a Total Image. She volunteers her time to teach cancer patients how to deal with appearance related side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Maggie also is focused on passing wig bills in Michigan Senate and House of Representatives that would encourage insurance companies to cover the cost of children's wigs. She has received countless awards for her work on behalf of cancer patients, including the GOV Service Award for Exemplary community service. The women who make magic award, the art van hope award, the Detroit News, Misha Ghanian of the Year Award cranes notable women and nonprofits award and so many more. Were pleased and honored to welcome you, Maggie to our podcast.
Maggie Varney 1:30
Well, thank you. Thank you, Dr. Ashley out is actually Richardson, correct?
Dr. Ashley Richardson 1:36
Maggie Varney 1:37
Okay. Nice to meet you. And thank you for this opportunity to get together today. And sharing where?
Dr. Ashley Richardson 1:45
Yeah, we are so happy to have you. You have quite the accolade of award. So seems like we have a lot to talk about. But first of all, what inspired you to get involved with the look good, feel better program over 30 years ago?
Maggie Varney 1:57
Well, I'm a licensed cosmetologist, and I'm saying my real life, that's what I do. And I was a national and international educator in my field. And I had reached kind of the pinnacle of my career. And I said, I have all this knowledge, and I need to be able to serve and give back and help others. I was raised that way. So I volunteered at my church and my minister was going through cancer at that time, and he announced from the pulpit was there anybody who had any experience with wigs that you know, because it was televised, and he wanted to keep a look of help, you know, while he was going on his treatment plan. And I went to the office and volunteered because I'm from the late 60s. So you know, we were trained on then. And so I helped him and unfortunately, he lost his battle. And I, I discovered that there was this program to the American Cancer Society where you can go and get trained and become a facilitator. And teach at local cancer centers and hospitals volunteer your time and help patients to deal with all the appearance related side effects of what they go through. And I thought that would be a good way to give back. So to Mondays because Monday is our day off in my industry a month, I would go to a couple of different hospitals and the other two Mondays, I would let patients bring wigs to me that they had already purchased. I didn't sell ways. And I would help them and teach them how to care for maintaining. Now if you've never been through this experience, you have no idea what to do. Yeah, for sure.
Dr. Ashley Richardson 3:33
So what exactly is the look good feel better program?
Maggie Varney 3:38
What, as I said is through the American Cancer Society, it is free. It is a free national and international program and anybody who is going through cancer is it's open. And when it first started, it was just focused on breast cancer, and you know, 30 years ago, and then they expanded it to anybody going through any type of cancer, whether it's uterine, there are you know, whatever different types there are, and there are so many of course, we know and we didn't want to leave anybody out. And so that that's how it really with me, that's how it started that I heard about this program and I just thought it was great. And what they do there is we have a workshop in the hospital, they they've this they provide the space for us to do it. And then the American Cancer Society, the cosmetic Trojan fragrance industry, you know, we got together and they all donated all the items in the patient's would get a kit of, you know, makeup and skincare and have like $150 for free. And then I would instruct them and we would do a hands on, you know on how to sanitize and you know, because as you know that there's only so many ways that they can get infection into their body and through the eyes, nose and mouth are three of them. And so we want to To make sure that what they're using is not contaminated. So we taught them, you know how to take care of it. And in how to create a look, you know, makeup is really, I like to do in stage in theater makeup, that most people want to have a sense of self, they want a little sure there and just have a sense of well being. And so that's really what we worked on. And well, that and
Dr. Ashley Richardson 5:25
that's pretty fantastic, especially how it transitioned into, you know, care of wigs, and how has that come over the years in your industry? You know, we often as a breast surgeon, patients that are preparing to undergo chemotherapy, talk to us a lot about finding resources for wigs or undergoing hair loss and how to kind of transition through that period. Do you work with patients and tell me the steps of that?
Maggie Varney 5:48
I do I work with patients every single day. You know, one of the questions that that came to mind was, you know, how does a patient prepare for hair loss? Well, I don't know that they ever are prepared, that you're I have had people go through surgeries and treatment and you know, medications and, and, and they do fine. But when they lose their hair, that is the first visible sign to the outside world. Now everybody knows was absolutely in our world. And it's almost they feel, you know, exposed. And so if they can have some sense of normalcy, and that's what we help provide them with. And you know, you doctors are so busy saving their life and working in helping with their medical treatment. And that's why you send them to us so that we can help them with the appearance part of it, which is a very important part in you know, even everyday life, when you look good, you do feel better.
Dr. Ashley Richardson 6:46
Absolutely. And I think that's one of those things. When we sit down on our cancer consultations, we know folks that are going to need chemotherapy, and oftentimes before surgery, almost instantly, patients will look at me and break down in tears. And the first thing out of their mouth is I don't want to lose my hair. And you know, the younger the patient, I think the harder that is for them. And we really have a thorough conversation oftentimes about hair loss and chemotherapy and the internal struggles that they're going to go to. And I think both myself and my partner's love having resources to send them to, to discuss wigs to talk about appearances and to have a social support system. And this is important, especially in the times of COVID, unfortunately, I've lost a couple of local resources because the salons have went out of business or they've limited their wig making and things of that nature. And that has been extremely impactful in my office.
Maggie Varney 7:39
Sure, it's so true. And it's such a necessity, you know, I always say everybody doesn't have to have a wig for everybody has to have a choice. Sure. And sometimes they come to me and I just help them with the eyebrows and the eyelashes and, and they don't want to wear a wig at all, they just want to rock it with a hat or a turban. And you know, it's all about them. I never feel that, you know, we should impose whatever we think on other people, it's their journey. That's their personal journey. And so I let them tell me, and, and that's a
Dr. Ashley Richardson 8:14
split, go, if there's one thing that COVID allowed, it's that you're kind of all wrapped up in something. And so, you know, I see a lot of healthcare providers that are in surgical hats and things of that nature, or they go out, you know, we're here in Michigan where it's freezing cold out. And they feel sometimes almost more comfortable just throwing on a big hat where they don't have to have a wig, and they still can maintain some of their self. But also, like you mentioned, the eyebrows and the eyelashes and things of that nature that retain their outward appearance to others. And I use that statement to people all the time to patients to say at the end of the day, our goal is to make you feel yourself and to make you in a room full of people that they are not looking at you like she has cancer because I think that's emotionally a big impact on patients.
Maggie Varney 8:59
Absolutely. I totally agree. And a lot of them don't know and some of this is not addressing it God bless you that you address this with your patients. But a lot of patients that I get this was never mentioned to them. And I tell them, No, you cannot have manicures and pedicures when you're in treatment. You know you can't cut your cuticles and if you need your your toes, toenails cut, then your insurance will pay for the podiatrist to do it. You can't take a chance like that. Yeah, so we also teach them, you know, to stay healthy and well and what are some of the changes you know, because they don't know what to expect and their nails discolor and they they split and they become brittle and they break off and they lift from the nail bed. And they're shocked when all this starts happening. But if you I always tell them if you think of a prescription when you get a prescription it says it could have all these side effects but chances are it won't. I says the same thing when they come to see me I go some of these things couldn't happen. Most of them probably won't But if they do, you will be prepared and we can address it. So
Dr. Ashley Richardson 10:05
well, and I on one of our previous podcast, podcasts, we had talked about shaming and comparisons and you bring up nails. And they're oftentimes that patients will say, you know, I feel so shallow that I'm worried about my nails are what they look like, or what my eyebrows look like, but at the end of the day tells the patient's it's not shallow, you want to you need to be you and you need to feel like you. And when you feel like you, you'll do better. And we get too sucked into worrying about what other people are going to worry about. But at the end of the day, if it makes you feel good to have your nails look pretty, then that's not wrong or bad. And we just need to find workarounds, right, like you said, we might not be able to do that. But there's other things that we can bring to light that may make you feel better that isn't, that's not your nails,
Maggie Varney 10:49
well, and then I teach them you can't you can't have acrylics, you can't have jealous you can't have extensions at this time, because the weight of the material will cause the nail to live in the nail bed. But there are formaldehyde free products that you can use. And you can do your own nails and you can sterilize your You can't cut your cuticles, but you can file your own nails. And you can use formaldehyde free products. And you can use cuticle oil every single day before you go to bed to keep open splitting and drying. And you can use Aqua for on your lips every night. So you don't get sores in the corners of your mouth. These are just simple things that they can do to help prevent some of the issues that they do face as they're going through treatment.
Dr. Ashley Richardson 11:31
Absolutely. And one of the simple things that both myself and my partners do in our office are trying to give resources. So how do women find wigs or find the right ones? Or can you talk a little bit about insurance coverage when it comes to wigs.
Maggie Varney 11:45
You know, I feel like like clothing, it's really a personal choice. But the most important thing is, if it's not comfortable, you're not going to wear it. So you think about a pair of shoes, if you put a pair of shoes out and they look really hot, and you look great. But you know, 10 minutes later, your feet are hurting, it doesn't feel good, you're not gonna wear them. It's the same way with a wig. No people will go online instead of consulting with a hair restoration specialist or go online and they'll buy two and three weeks. And then they bring them to me and they go, you know, and I think to myself, Mike, and you could add a really nice way. But what you spend for all of this are, are not comfortable, and they're itchy, and they're picky. And so I would I always ask my if possible if and when possible, it doesn't isn't necessary, because I'm experienced. But if and when it's possible to come and see me before you lose your hair. So then I can see the texture of your hair, the color, the density, and if not, I can work off of a pitcher. And then, you know, I always think it's empowering. Because that way I always tell them you come in, it's so traumatic when it's actually happening, that if you can talk about it before and address it, and then know that you have a game plan, they feel like they're in control of something that they have no control over. And I find that that work really well with my patients.
Dr. Ashley Richardson 13:08
Yeah, I think that's something that I touched on a lot as control. You know, we see folks in the office that have cancer consultation, and they just feel completely out of control and things are spiraling around them. And there's nothing that the cancer diagnosis, the treatment recommendations, the surgery, and it's all moving so fast that they really have no control. And as a provider, I really look to find the things that I can guide them to to give them a little bit of control. And that's a you know, a great comment in order to send them your way before they start chemotherapy so that they can be prepared and have a discussion and understand their expectations and what you could give them
Maggie Varney 13:44
and many people who've never needed awakens, they've never even tried one on so they have no idea what you're supposed to feel like. And there's different types of ways. There's medical ways what we call medical wigs, who then have the Model tab, and then they have the lace front. And they look the most natural, and then there's hand tied. So I mean, there's just too many choices unless your guidance. So they tell me, roughly, you know what they like what they're comfortable with. And I give them you know, at least three to pick from the different cap constructions and, and I explain each one that educate them. This is a human This is a synthetic, this is a one, this cap is a closed cap, this is an open. So you know, once then they and this is the price range. And this is why so you tell me what your budget will allow and what time exam and you tell me what's comfortable, and if I don't have the color, you know, that we certainly can order and get it within a week. You know, I turn around. So, you know, I let them tell me what they want.
Dr. Ashley Richardson 14:43
Yeah, I mean, I can say I've never had a wig on you know, maybe a Halloween costume many many decades ago. But when it comes to actual wigs that are outside of the costume arena, I've never I wouldn't have any knowledge about everything that you just spoke of. And I talk to the patients a lot about wigs but just getting them into the right direction to have them obtain one. But outside of that I don't have any of that knowledge.
Maggie Varney 15:06
And another thing, not everybody has the budget for, you know, a human custom made wig. So it has to fit their lifestyle, as you said about insurance insurance, a lot of the insurance will pay a portion of it. But it doesn't cover all of it. Very few. I think the teachers union is one that covers it. But there's a few that covered but not most of them, but they'll pay something towards it. So that at least helps. And I also have a wingman that, you know, because I'm well known in the industry, that people who have wigs salons and they close them or they go out of business or, you know, they'll they'll donate wigs to me and they're new, or they'll donate gently used wigs, I just in fact, refurbish them, and I put them in my wig bank, and for someone who has no means at all, sure, so that they
Dr. Ashley Richardson 15:57
that's a fabulous resource. And I think that's one of the areas that breast cancer treatment has come a really, really long way. But there are still so many things that we can continue to fight for our patients. And we talk about breast prosthesis after mastectomies or post mastectomy bras and patients just don't understand that some of those things are covered by insurance and to a certain extent. So just as there are multiple different types of wigs, there's multiple different types of prosthesis and mastectomy bras, and unfortunately, insurance doesn't cover all of it. And I think being an advocate for those resources is super important.
Maggie Varney 16:34
Absolutely, and, you know, and again, a lot of them sometimes are not able to work, many continue to work, but some are not. And their budget just won't allow for them to, you know, spend a lot of money. So, you know, I let them tell me what they want, you know, I
Dr. Ashley Richardson 16:51
know. Well, and then tell us a little about you created The Total Image program, how did that come about? Well,
Maggie Varney 16:59
you know, the look and feel better program is absolutely a wonderful program, and I support it, and I and I love that program. That's how I started and, and I still work with my patients, but they they address the hair, skin and nails, and I thought I need something a little more extensive, a little more comprehensive, I need to talk also about the healing emotionally, and psychologically and socially and, and incorporate some, uh, some of those ideas like nutrition, and wellness and yoga and, you know, non traditional types of treatments. And so I just think that, you know, when we're going through something like that, and I, too, am a cancer survivor. I was not until 11 years ago, and I have breast cancer. And last year, my daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer, and completely different time. So nobody in my family had ever had cancer. And people used to say to me, do you do this? Because you lost somebody? And I said, No, thank God. No, that wasn't the case. And so an 11 years ago, and then I found a lump and I then now I get it from every angle, you know, it
Dr. Ashley Richardson 18:12
was for right now it's came full circle,
Maggie Varney 18:14
right? You betcha. And now my kids because I work with the Wigs for Kids program. You know, I'm the founder and CEO of that. And now my own kid was I don't care how old they are. They're still your kid absolutely is diagnosed with a very aggressive type of breast cancer. And I'm like, Oh, my God. I said, Really, Lord? I mean, I got it already do and now I get it from every angle, you know, so
Dr. Ashley Richardson 18:36
on, it's probably made you a better advocate as well.
Maggie Varney 18:39
Oh, I think so. I do think so. I mean, you know, I do believe that, well, would
Dr. Ashley Richardson 18:45
our listeners or our patients be hooked up to the Total Image program?
Maggie Varney 18:50
Well, it's free, just like the creating, just like the look and feel better program, it's free, they just have to contact me and go green salon, which is located inside of wigs for kids. And they can come through Wigs for Kids and go green so on either one, and I put my adult patients through the Go Green salon portion of it. And then if they do purchase a wig or have any services done there that are worth funds aren't involved, then 50% of it goes back to support the Wigs for Kids program to help provide and to help us continue to work with the children because we charge them nothing is profit. And so So and that's how I started. I started with my adult patients. And when I decided to start with for kids, you know, it was my patients who helped me get started because I had helped mothers or fathers or sisters and brothers and they heard I was now working with kids and they came out and helped me. And I kidding. No, I mean it was wonderful
Dr. Ashley Richardson 19:54
and beautiful. I think that's you're amazing to see it.
Maggie Varney 19:57
Yeah, yeah in the community just doing your thing, not thinking anybody's paying attention? And then suddenly, all those seeds of kindness that you planted, then come back to you blossom?
Dr. Ashley Richardson 20:08
Yeah, yes. And I imagine you're creating a big social support for patients as well, those that come through the circuit to kind of get matched up together to share their journey and support and encouragement with each other. Yes,
Maggie Varney 20:23
they do. And they exchange numbers, you know, often in our, in our groups, you know, they'll exchange numbers and, and I could do different things in my, my class, like, nutrition wise, you know, we could have, you know, lunch, like, that wasn't part of the local program. And so, we would, you know, because sometimes we're there for a couple hours. And so we add some refreshments. And anyway, it's, and you get to know these people, and you get to, you know, they're like, your extended family?
Dr. Ashley Richardson 20:52
Absolutely. Well, I know, you know, just in my small community, the patients that I treat the six degrees of separation from one patient to another, it's almost amazing at times to know who all knows, another patient and some degree, and that word of mouth, and that connection, speaks volumes across especially within Michigan, it were a big state, but people have a very far reach within a very short reach within one another.
Maggie Varney 21:21
Absolutely. I agree with you. Well,
Dr. Ashley Richardson 21:23
we are certainly very lucky to have your resources here locally, are there any other messages you'd like to share with our listeners,
Maggie Varney 21:30
you know, I never ever advertise. I don't solicit people, I don't advertise because all my people that come to me are from doctors, usually, and hospitals, because I work with all eight hospitals all throughout Michigan, that serve as pediatric oncology. And so and they've known me for teaching at their hospital, so I never ever, ever tired, because if I did, I wouldn't be able to come accommodate everybody. But um, you know, I always feel that whoever needs me finds me. And so
Dr. Ashley Richardson 22:03
I think that's the goal of this podcast is to help our listeners find you and to let us know, as providers other resources to send our patients to you to make them have that Total Image.
Maggie Varney 22:15
Well, I take good care of him. I, you know, I help loving through the process. And, you know, it's really important, it's not just about a way it is hope and health and self esteem and normalcy. And
Dr. Ashley Richardson 22:31
in trading the whole body, part of that is not just their cancer diagnosis,
Maggie Varney 22:34
right? Absolutely. Well, thank
Dr. Ashley Richardson 22:37
you, Maggie, for joining me today on the breast of everything. You have been absolutely phenomenal and have offered so many great resources.
Maggie Varney 22:44
Thank you so much for having me. And, you know, if you ever know of a child in need of our services, please let us know we help everyone we charge nothing, we turn no one away. And if that's wigs number for kids, Maggie's drinks for kids in Michigan, and same thing with goGreen salon if you have any patients that could use our support, and I do the classes, they create a toll image classes every month, and there's no charge for them, and they're fun. And the ladies have a good time, and we celebrate their life. Well, I
Dr. Ashley Richardson 23:17
know we will certainly be sending patients your way. Well, thank you. And thank you for listening to the rest of everything. I am your host Dr. Asher Richardson of comprehensive breast care. And as always, we want to hear from you. If you have a topic you'd like us to talk about. We welcome any suggestions you can send them to compress care.com that CO MP breastcare.com
You've been listening to the breast of everything podcast with your host and board certified breast surgeon, Dr. Ashley Richardson of comprehensive breast care. If you have a subject you would like the surgeons to discuss, please email your suggestions online at comp breast care.com. That's compbreastcare.com The doctors want to hear from you. The views thoughts and opinions shared in this podcast are intended for general education and informational purposes only and should not be substituted for medical advice, treatment or care from your physician or healthcare provider. Always consult your healthcare provider first.
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