It involved personal trauma and growth and the need to give back after a brush with her own mortality.
Cohen was a 30-something with waist-length hair working in marketing for a variety of companies, including JP Morgan, where she served as vice president for research and development. Then in late 2000 Cohen fell sick. By 2001 she had begun treatment for occult cancer, a form of the disease whose primary origin is unknown.
“I didn’t think I was going to make it,” Cohen said from the New York apartment she is vacating next month for one in Union. “I had several surgeries and 13 months of treatment. All of that was difficult, but really the most difficult thing to face emotionally was losing my hair.”
Her hair became a casualty in the battle as she underwent chemotherapy, radiation, and other treatments. She remembers going wig shopping with her sister, who lives in Union and whose daughter participates in children’s programs at the YM-YWHA in Union. Cohen recalled trying to hide which store in the strip mall she was going into as she walked from the parking lot.
“I remember thinking I’m never going to leave the house again,” she said. “I was ashamed and I thought, why?”
Now she’s reaching out to other women, hoping they don’t have to go through what she did. About a year ago she left the Fortune 500 life to start Girl on the Go!, an in-home wig salon for women. “The crux of my business is to support women and provide them comfort,” Cohen said. “I was at a client’s house with my stylist this afternoon. She was 19. She and her mother couldn’t thank me enough.”
Cohen imports wigs, both synthetic and woven from human hair, from Korea. The quality is good, but it’s the service that draws her clients to Girl On The Go! A professional stylist travels to clients’ homes, discusses their likes and dislikes, and trims the wig to order.
Her company includes three employees – consultants who travel all over the tristate area to service women in need of wigs. In addition to cancer patients, they see women suffering from alopecia, naturally thinning hair, and other medical conditions.
The consultants drive unmarked cars to ensure privacy. They offer custom wigs in 60 colors, plus hairpieces, ponytails, and baseball caps with hair attached. Prices range from $250 to $1,200, depending on the style and fiber. Cohen recommends that cancer patients go for the synthetic. Human-hair wigs not only cost more but behave like human hair – they frizz in the summer and need primping year round.
She also suggests clients consider purchasing one wig for formal occasions and another, often cheaper version – a scarf or baseball hat with hair attached – for working out and for short trips out of the house.
“This isn’t about status,” Cohen said. “This is about feeling comfortable and secure. It’s about looking good and feeling good.” She sometimes feels conflicted after her first telephone contact with clients. Despite the sadness, she receives many notes from women telling her how appreciative they are for their wig.
“I have such mixed feelings about it,” she said. “Every time I talk with a woman I’m happy I can help her, but I’m feeling sad because I know about the journey she’s about to go through.” She added that her goal ” is to help women meet a difficult challenge with dignity, beauty, grace, and privacy.” Now that Cohen is in remission, she said she feels the need to give back.
“I can’t move forward and forget where I’ve been,” she said. “I know these women; they’re my family, my sisters. I’m a completely different person” since her battle with cancer began. “I can’t move forward without taking them with me.”
Enid Weiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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