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Vail Valley’s Shaw Cancer Center knows patients need a place ‘to feel a little pretty’

New Appearance Center provides patients with an array of wigs, hats, scarfs and more in boutique-like setting

This article was first published in the Vail Daily on November 23, 2019

EDWARDS — The latest treatment room at the Shaw Cancer Center feels more like a salon than a clinic.

It’s called the Appearance Center — it opened this fall and it is dedicated to helping patients’ spirits as they battle cancer. The center has already served nearly 50 individuals.

Vail Health officials describe the center as “small but mighty.” Tucked into a former office space, the center offers an array of wigs, hats, scarfs and more. There is a boutique atmosphere in the small space, where patients enjoy privacy as they try on hats and hairpieces.

The Appearance Center is operated as part of Shaw’s Spirit of Survivorship program. All of the items on display are provided to patients free of charge.

“We also have products to help people care for the wigs,” said Kristi Grems, a social worker at the center. From wire brushes to wig stands to specialty shampoo to advice, patients are given what they need for hairpiece maintenance

“We encourage people to take the wigs to their hairstylist,” Grems said. “It’s pretty amazing how close we can get to a person’s actual hair color.”

The Shaw Cancer Center team stressed that focusing attention on a patient’s physical appearance isn’t about vanity.

“I definitely think it affects a person’s spirits a bit when your hair starts to fall out,” said Kim Sharkey, cancer services manager for Vail Health. “This is a place to feel a little pretty.”

It’s also a place where patients can rebuild normality.

“I talked to a patient who wore her wig at work because she didn’t want to answer all the questions,” Sharkey said.

Wigs and more
Patients have lots of options in the little Appearance Center space.

“Men can come in to. We get them hats,” Grems said. A particularly popular option is a hat/neck cover combination that offers great sun protection.

Dozens of caps, scarves and other accessories are available, and like the wigs, patients can take home what they like, free of charge.

The center also carries Make Merry undergarments, designed by a radiation oncologist to provide function and comfort for patients undergoing treatment. Center visitors can even pick up a specialty walking stick, made by a former patient from the Aspen area, to aid stability as they venture out to exercise.

“We would like to keep expanding this as much a possible,” said Grems, noting that proceeds from events including Pink Vail help fund the Appearance Center.

Sharkey and Grems said the new center is getting rave reviews from its customers.

“I had one patient who walked out and said she felt like a movie star,” Grems said.

As they celebrate the popular program, Sharkey and Grems are excited about Shaw’s next Appearance Center plan. The Shaw Cancer Center is planning to bring in a cold cap hair preservation system. This FDA approved technology helps patients retain their own hair while undergoing treatment.

Learn more about the Shaw Cancer Center Spirit of Survivorship program.

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