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Free wigs and makeovers improve self-esteem of cancer patients in Kenya

Hairdresser Akech fitting client Grace Mumo with wig in her Nairobi Salon, on Mar. 9, 2023.   -  
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Cleared / AP


Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy often lose their hair as a side effect of the treatment. A beautician in Nairobi is helping to improve cancer patients' self esteem with free wigs and makeovers.

The view of hairdressers styling wigs in a salon IS commonplace; but this Nairobi salon pampers women receiving treatment for diseases like breast cancer.

After she lost a close friend to cancer, beautician Diana Akech was inspired to run the service through her local charity, Pink Butterfly.

"I like to give them a second chance, like just trying to remind them how beautiful they are because sometimes it really affects their self-esteem. So they know when they walk into this salon, they know they will come out feeling fabulous and looking fabulous."

Cancer is responsible for seven percent of deaths per year in Kenya. Serving these patients', comes at an emotional price for Diana Akech.

"Over the years I have dealt with about 700 women and I think so far we have lost about two, three hundred women. And it has not been easy because you tend to become very close with the survivors, you become friends. Then when you hear you have lost a survivor, it really breaks your heart ...."

Joy of pamper time

Grace Mumo is a breast cancer patient. The salon has helped her rediscover the joy of pamper time.

Wigs are typically expensive in Kenya, women who come get makeovers for free.

"Before the treatment, I felt good when I would go to the salon, I felt like a complete woman. But when I lost my hair, I did not feel like going to a barber shop because I do not belong to that place. When I come to the salon and have those wigs, I feel again like other women and I feel so comfortable and I feel like I belong to somewhere."

Hair loss due to chemotherapy happens when the medicines that are meant to kill cancer cells also have an effect on the normal cells. The public perceptions of cancer and low self-esteem often leave women distressed

"Hair is part of their beauty so there is a challenge of loss of hair sometimes the treatments can cause darkening of the skin and the darkening of your nails so that causes changes in the appearance which might make them lose their self esteem," medical oncologist Sitna Mwanzi says.

"When they stop chemotherapy there is regrowth of their hair overtime, so it is not a permanent condition unless someone is continuing on chemotherapy because maybe the disease has not responded to treatment."

In a country where wigs can be expensive, the Pink butterfly initiative is kept alive through donations.

Kenya records 39,000 new cases of cancer every year.

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