Today, the salon is kicking off its “Blow Out to End Breast Cancer” campaign which allows clients to choose from a menu of premium blow dry styles with a $5 donation to Pink Heals Foundation. This Atlanta-based nonprofit organization supports breast cancer survivors ages 21 to 43.
Lisa Vingerling, Pink Heals Founder, was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2008. She was 23 years old. All but one of her dad’s sisters had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and one of her uncles died from colon cancer.
Vingerling began getting mammograms, ultrasounds and other breast checkups every six months, and said she always prepped herself for the worst. However, the actual diagnosis still caught her off guard.
“When they told me about my cancer, I had already been to two other doctors who had told me it was nothing to worry about,” she said. “It blindsided me because I had already been told that the pathology for it was negative for cancer.”
Vingerling underwent surgery and chemotherapy. During her six-week recovery, her creative juices began to flow, and Pink Heals was born.
“I’m a project person, so I really needed something to do,” she said. The nonprofit organization partners with Cancer Wellness of Piedmont, the place where Vingerling received treatment. Pink Heals Foundation targets a younger group of women and treats them to social outings, Zumba, cooking classes and more. Vingerling said cancer groups often target a different age range, cutting off at age 40.
“We pick up where other programs leave off,” she said. “Our goal with the events is to help people focus on life again and not cancer. It’s difficult going through treatment. When you’re focused on cancer, all you think about is doctors and treatment. You live in ‘cancer land.’”
Van Michael reached out to the nonprofit organization last year. Vingerling, 35, began going to the salon at age 15.
“(Pink Heals Foundation) was contacted by Van Michael because they wanted to partner with an organization that was really involved with the young cancer survivor community in Atlanta,” she said. “Van Michael always helped me feel beautiful. It was kind of a natural fit.”
Rod Lawson, Van Michael master stylist, said losing hair can be traumatic. Some of his clients have been affected with breast cancer, and he said Van Michael has always been passionate about breast cancer awareness.
“Anything we can do to work with breast cancer — and cancer in general — we do. One of my clients passed away this spring,” he said. “You feel helpless not to be able to help, so it’s nice to be able to give back and help the ones you can. It’s absolutely amazing and rewarding.”
Lawson, who has 25 years of experience as a stylist, is one of a few professionals who have been trained to use Evolve Volumizer. This product is a hair integration system, made entirely from human hair, that offers women the look and feel of their natural locks.
The product is not exclusively for women affected by cancer, but it is an option for them when chemotherapy and other treatment affect hair. Lawson said it’s a better alternative to wearing a wig, and the look is more natural.
“Everyone loves it,” he said. Van Michael is one of the first salons in the nation to have trained and certified professionals to work with the product.
Evolve Volumizer has some similarities to hair extensions, but Lawson said this product is reusable and the clients don’t have to get new hair.
Using a mesh base, the Evolve Volumizer is applied to the woman’s head. Her hair is integrated into the cap, which Lawson said makes it undetectable. The process time varies from person to person but can take nearly an hour. Maintenance is required every four to six weeks
Lawson said it doesn’t require daily washes and comes in various textures. He does not suggest the product for women with active lifestyles (swimming, marathon running, for example).
Carol Gray might have discovered her breast cancer early on, but the effects of treatment still linger. She has always had thin hair. After a lumpectomy, 21 radiation treatments and medicine, the Kennesaw native said her hair and skin changed. She recently received the Evolve Volumizer and was able to have a new look. However, she said her February 2010 diagnosis was a part of many changes in her life.
The combination of the cancer diagnosis and beginning a new job was overwhelming. She said, “Going through this in a new environment where people didn’t know me offered some really different challenges. It added a lot of different stresses. I felt like I didn’t have control of anything in my life.”
After a routine mammogram detected a lump, Gray learned she had Stage 1 breast cancer. She urges women to get their annual mammograms. Although she is cancer-free today, she still has routine visits with her doctors.
“Over the past three years, I have really worked on myself and the way I react to things or approach things,” she said. “Like right now, being in a job search. It’s stressful, but it’s not going to kill me. I look at the bright side of things.”
One of those bright sides was breast reconstruction. Treatment left one of her breasts misshapen, and Gray said a breast that has undergone radiation treatment will reject a silicone implant. The doctors were able transfer fat from her stomach to her breast as filler to create a more natural, even look.
“Everybody kept saying, ‘I can give you some fat!’” she recalls, laughing.
Gray said she never had a “doom and gloom” attitude about her cancer. Instead, she has learned about herself and the importance of her friends and family. Her mother is also a breast cancer survivor, and Gray said the support from her mother and sister was important and healing.
She said people facing cancer should take advantage of the resources available to them in their communities, such as Pink Heals, and other support groups. She said it helps to be around other women who can empathize with having cancer.
“Don’t doubt yourself for doing it,” she said. “It’s really helpful.”