CEDAR RAPIDS — Lisa Schares craves a sense of normalcy.
When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in August and was set to start chemotherapy treatments, she said it was important to her that things felt as normal as possible. She not only wanted to avoid stares and questions from strangers, but losing her hair wouldn’t let her feel like herself. She’s opting to wear a wig.
“I want to be a grandma, I want to be a mother, I want to be a co-worker and not have that be the focus,” said Schares, a 53-year-old resident of Readlyn in Bremer County.
And Amanda Fennern was the one to help her.
Fennern is employed by Mercy Medical Center as a cosmetologist within the Hall-Perrine Cancer Center. There, Fennern helps recently diagnosed cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy treatments select a head covering of their choice.
On occasion, Fennern also shaves patients’ heads once their hair starts falling out, an experience she described as “very heavy.”
“They’re upset and emotional, so it’s kind of hard, but it’s part of the experience, too,” she said. “I try to make it more positive in a way. The chemotherapy’s working if your hair is falling out.”
Fennern, who owns a salon at the Price Creek Event Center in Amana and has been a cosmetologist at Mercy since 2012, meets with patients one day a week. For the majority, that means helping them select a wig.
That was the case for Schares, who met with Fennern last week to chose the style, color and type of wig she plans to wear throughout the course of her treatment.
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She selected a short strawberry blonde wig, in a similar cut to her natural hair — an expense that was funded by Especially For You, which provides financial assistance for breast and gynecological cancer screenings and other related services for area individuals.
Schares had a mastectomy last month and will be undergoing 16 rounds of chemotherapy. She starts Friday.
The road ahead seems daunting, Schares acknowledged. Her oldest sister and mother died of colon cancer and another sister died from breast cancer, all of whom were people she said were her support system.
“It’s hard when all of the other ones are gone,” she said.
But Schares fights to maintain a positive outlook on the future.
“When you initially get this diagnosis, it’s huge. It is this big mountain that you are going to have to climb to get over,” she said. “I look at it and think I’m going to have to go through all of these stages of chemotherapy and the radiation and the fight, and it’s kind of a metamorphosis. You’re going through all of these changes, but you’re going to come out at the end and you’re going to be a lot prettier and stronger and you’ve got those wings on you and you can fly.”
Fennern says she tries to make the patients’ experience as positive as possible, a goal drawn from her experiences.
Her mother, Anne Hamilton, died when she was 13 years old.
“It’s been very healing for me to give back to other people who are going through something maybe I specifically never went through, but I was there firsthand and I can remember,” Fennern said. “I want to try to give back and turn my experience into something positive and be someone that can be there for these people that are going through something so bad.”
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