×

Survivor helps others look their best

Boardman woman grows wig business from scratch

Staff photo / Marly Kosinski Patti McSuley of Boardman, a 12-year breast cancer survivor, shows off the variety of wigs available at her business, Compassionate Wigs LLC, located inside her salon, Salon 224, in Boardman. McSuley said she knows how hard it is for a woman to lose her hair while going through chemotherapy because she experienced hair loss of her own.

BOARDMAN — It’s been 12 years since Patti McSuley was diagnosed with breast cancer.

She said she went in for her yearly mammogram and something showed up, so the doctor called her with the results and asked McSuley to come back so they could recheck a certain area.

“I was stupidly not worried and I thought there was something wrong with their machine,” said McSuley, who turned 59 on Monday. “They did a biopsy, and I went by myself to get the results because I still wasn’t worried.”

She said she was “shaken up” when they told her she had triple positive breast cancer, meaning the tumor tested positive for estrogen, progesterone and HER2, which is a growth-promoting protein on the outside of all breast cells.

Breast cancer cells with higher than normal levels of HER2 are called HER2-positive. These cancers tend to grow and spread faster than other breast cancers but are much more likely to respond to treatment with drugs that target the HER2 protein, according to the American Cancer Society.

McSuley said the pea-sized tumor was on her right breast. It did not spread to her lymph nodes, which she said was the best news she could have received.

She had surgery, followed by six rounds of chemotherapy administered once a week every three weeks. She then had to get an IV drip of medication once a week for a year.

“Every doctor has their own ‘prescription’ for treating cancer depending on the patient and type of cancer,” she said.

McSuley said when she was diagnosed in October 2008, doctors tended to recommend surgery first to remove cancerous tumors, followed by chemotherapy. Now they lean more toward chemotherapy first and then surgery.

“They can shrink the tumor now with chemo, so surgery may not be needed. Treatment has come a long way since I went through it,” she said.

McSuley said she was mostly tired and run down while getting treatment, but she still worked full time as a hair stylist for the former Regis Salon in the Southern Park Mall. She graduated from cosmetology school about two years before her diagnosis and was just getting ready to strike out on her own when she got the bad news.

“I ended up staying at Regis for another year because I needed the insurance and I didn’t want the added stress of working for myself,” she said.

Once her weekly treatments ended, she got her own chair at the Salon at Creekside in Canfield, where she stayed for eight years. One year into her stint at Creekside, she started getting compliments on the wigs she wore because she lost her hair during chemo.

“I started thinking ‘maybe I should sell them,'” McSuley said.

She did a lot of research on wigs and taught herself how to fit them and style them through “trial and error” using mannequin heads.

She was still going to the Blood and Cancer Center in Boardman for bi-annual checkups and she would get wig referral business from the center, as well as from the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center in Youngstown. She now also gets referrals from the Hope Center for Cancer Care in Boardman and Howland.

However, her wig business really took off after a visit from local philanthropist Denise BeBartolo York, who told McSuley she wanted to buy wigs for women going through treatment who were “falling through the cracks” financially because of insurance issues or lack of income.

Her business, Compassionate Wigs LLC, grew so much that she had to open her own salon, Salon 224, 1295 Boardman Canfield Road in Boardman. She now has an entire section of the salon dedicated to wigs.

“I know from personal experience that it is devastating to lose your hair. Some women take it harder than others. I fought having chemo because I didn’t want to lose mine, but at some point you just accept it,” McSuley said.

“I needed more room because most women bring one to three people with them when picking out a wig, usually their mother and a sister and a close friend,” she said. “Now, with COVID, I ask them to limit their guests to one.”

She has women come from as far away as East Liverpool and Pittsburgh because there is such a lack of the personal service McSuley provides when it comes to wigs.

“Once I started selling them, I found out how important it was and how much of a need there was,” McSuley said.

She said when a woman comes in for the first time to order a wig, she spends two hours with them to find out how they wear their hair, what kind of routine they have and what their expectations are. Once they choose a wig, McSuley shaves their head.

“Ninety-five percent of the time, that is how it works. But some women are in denial about losing their hair and they wait until it falls out completely. Then we have to get creative with bandannas, scarves and other accessories until I can spend time with them to order the perfect wig,” she said.

Most wigs cost $300, and some insurance providers reimburse all of the costs, while others partially reimburse and others do not reimburse at all. DeBartolo York gives money for the wigs to McSuley, who then gives women a coupon for a free wig if they qualify. Coupons also are distributed at the Blood and Cancer Center and the Joanie Abdu Center because the nurses there know who can’t afford one, McSuley said.

“All the screenings to determine who qualifies are done through me. She (DeBartolo York) provides the means for me to help these women and it makes me so happy to do that.”

To make an appointment with McSuley, call 330-207-7112 and leave a message.

NEWSLETTER

Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
     

COMMENTS

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today