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Center helps cancer patients feel whole again

Patients receive wigs, scarves, education information and more

While battling breast cancer, Kayla Barrientos was planning on attending a breakfast at her daughter’s school.

She was feeling self conscious, though, about the hair loss from the chemotherapy treatments.

“I didn’t want to go in bald, not that it matters,” said Barrientos, 39.

The Ottawa woman was diagnosed in February with stage 2 breast cancer, discovering it after her 9-year-old daughter, Marissa, laid by her chest while watching a movie and caused pain.

“I knew something was wrong because it hurt,” she said, adding she immediately saw a doctor and had a mammogram and ultrasound.

The mother of three girls — Hali, 20, Isabella, 15, and Marissa — praised her friends and family for their support and help in the months since her diagnosis. It was friends who recommended the American Cancer Society Resource Center & Wig Boutique in Streator to help her feel more comfortable attending the school’s breakfast.

Manned by 10 volunteers, the center offers wigs, hair stylist services, hats, scarves and educational material, along with information on other services provided by the American Cancer Society.

“When you have a patient come in in tears, struggling to take their hat off and to start trying on wigs, it is tough. When you have been through that experience you know how they are feeling,” said Karen Ranger, volunteer coordinator and a cancer survivor. “When you can help that patient find a wig that makes them ‘feel pretty’ again and a smile comes on their face through the tears, it makes you feel like you have done something good that day.”

It was in 2009 Ranger received a wig from the American Cancer Society and it also was at that time talk within the local Relay for Life committee began of bringing such a service to La Salle County.

Cheryl Canale, chairwoman of the Relay event in 2010, contacted the then-St. Mary’s Hospital and the American Cancer Society to discuss the project. Work began to obtain volunteers to man the center and the suite was furnished by St. Mary’s Hospital and wigs and other items were provided by the American Cancer Society. In May 2011, the center opened at its current location at 104 Sixth St., Streator.

OSF Center for Health - Streator has continued to support the center by providing the suite free of charge, Ranger said.

Volunteers are trained by American Cancer Society staff members and learn how to assist the cancer patient with wig selection. The center has two local hair stylists that also volunteer their time to style the wig. 

“They were awesome there. They were really sweet. They’ll help you with whatever you want. They let me sit there and try on whatever I wanted to try on. They don’t rush you.

“I was really nervous going in there, not thinking at 38 I’d have to go in there to try on a wig.”

She said the brunette wig she received made her feel like herself again — not a person sick with cancer. 

In August, Barrientos underwent a double mastectomy and has another surgery scheduled for November, but said she feels lucky the cancer was caught early. 

Her hair is now starting to grow back. She said she’s grateful for the center and its volunteers.

“The ladies there really make a difference for people like me that aren’t feeling that great about themselves.”

The center has given out more than 40 wigs this year and provided many more clients with cancer educational materials, hats, scarves and lap blankets.

The center’s free services are open to anyone diagnosed with cancer — even those outside La Salle County. Its hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday and Wednesday or by appointment by calling 815-673-5620.

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