Tracy Hauk and Betsy Rachubinski were yukking it up at the salon. Client and stylist. Chit-chatting about life, the universe, and everything.
“The first time my hair started falling out, it was a big deal,” Hauk said. “Probably should have had my head shaved, but I wasn’t up to it then.”
Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, Hauk described the terror of waking up to clumps of hair following treatment. She also discussed the feeling of relief, of normalcy, when you start to look like yourself again.
“The second time around, I had Betsy shave my head and I got this really beautiful wig,” Hauk said. “I wanted a more natural look.”
Hauk was introduced to Happy Heads Salon inside Fox Valley Hematology & Oncology (FVHO) through one of FVHO’s patient navigators. The specialized salon is a private and intimate space where women dealing with the effects of hair loss due to cancer treatments find the services they need to restore a sense of identity.
Here they get to work with Rachubinski, wig specialist, licensed cosmetologist, and the undeniable force behind Happy Heads.
Happy Heads offers wig consultations and fittings, haircuts and head shavings, and assistance with styling and beauty techniques in a one-chair salon.
But don’t call it tiny.
“This is exactly the size this salon should be,” said Rachubinski.
Rachubinski works full time at a traditional 18-chair salon as well as working with her clientele at Happy Heads. Her duties at FVHO she considers a calling.
“I love to do hair and always wanted to be a stylist,” she said. “But I also wanted to help people with more than just doing their hair.”
The salon’s name was suggested by a patient who understood the importance of a good wig or scarf to make the treatment journey a little easier. Or put another way, “If our heads were happy, then we were happy. And we could conquer anything.”
Clients of the salon can also take advantage of the Look Good, Feel Better program through the American Cancer Society. Designed for women receiving treatment for cancer, Look Good, Feel Better is a free public service program made possible through donations.
The program teaches women about makeup, skin and nail care, and head coverings used during cancer treatments. The workshops, which Rachubinski presents every other month at FVHO, provide a great way for women to experiment with makeup and various wigs, hats, and turbans.
Most valuable of all, they receive the support of other women coping with cancer treatment – those about to go through it, those experiencing it, and those who’ve been there.
Participants remark that the program’s impact on their looks and outlooks is immeasurable. Losing hair can create a sense of fear and anxiety, even devastation.
“To help someone look like themselves again is very humbling,” said Rachubinski.
For Hauk, she wanted the same hair color she had before. Length was important too.
“I had really long hair,” said Hauk. “And with this wig I have it back.”
“And it’s a heat friendly synthetic,” added Rachubinski, “so she can curl her hair like she always has!”
The bond that has developed between the two is not difficult to discern.
Hauk said, “Betsy cried when she first put this wig on me.”
Getting her look back was important in itself, but it was also part of Hauk’s evolution in learning to deal with emotions since being diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.
Despite being sick, Hauk looks like a healthy young woman.
“Yeah, I get that a lot,” she said. “You don’t try to look sick.”
Here Hauk identifies the ups and downs (“definitely a roller coaster”), the massive challenges one experiences both physically and mentally.
“The first time around I kept more inside myself and didn’t want to talk about it,” she said. “It felt like a nightmare, not real. Now, I feel I can talk about it more, not be as emotional as I once was.”
And she acknowledges her support system: her parents, her sister, her friends, all those who contribute to her outlook on life.
“I need to stay positive,” she said.
Rachubinski agreed. “I am a firm believer in positivity. Fighting gets you through.”
And Hauk is a warrior.
Two years ago, Hauk flew to Atlanta to attend a conference. There she met women from across the country, some like her in their 30s, many in their 20s, others in their teens. The event was the Young Survival Coalition National Summit, where young women of strength come together to face breast cancer.
“I learned from so many amazing women there,” Hauk said. “I try really hard to stay strong.”