By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
Tristan Loudenback is years past her cancer treatments, but keeps in mind patients still fighting the disease.
The Everett woman was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. She had six surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy.
Asked about her health today, Loudenback, 43, said “I’m great.”
Earlier this month, she organized a fundraiser called Wigstock III. The event at Everett’s Austin Bar &Grill, featuring four bands, raised about $5,200. That money will be donated to the Providence General Foundation’s Cancer Patients Assistance Fund. The fund pays for gas, groceries, bills and wigs for those being treated at the Providence Regional Cancer Partnership in Everett.
It’s a cause dear to Loudenback’s heart.
“Wigstock I was for me,” she said. “It was when I was going through chemo.” The first Wigstock, at Everett’s old Anchor Pub, was put on by Loudenback’s co-workers at Teague, an industrial design firm that works with the Boeing Co.
Loudenback has stuck with her Wigstock fundraisers because she remembers what it was like to fight cancer and struggle to pay medical bills. “I wanted to buy a really nice scarf, but it was $75,” she said.
Now, there’s a new need for donations because of a change coming to the Healing Spirit Boutique. That facility, just off the lobby in the Providence Regional Cancer Partnership, provides free wigs, hats and support for patients losing their hair due to chemotherapy. The American Cancer Society runs the boutique in a partnership with Providence.
After March 31, because of a nationwide change in American Cancer Society policy, the boutique won’t provide any used wigs. In the past, more than half of its wig supply has been used. The boutique has accepted donations of gently used wigs, which were cleaned and given to patients.
Loudenback hopes most of the money raised March 7 at Wigstock III will be used to buy new wigs to boost the boutique’s supply.
Jerri Wood is a specialist in mission delivery for the American Cancer Society’s Great West Division. She explained why the agency won’t accept or give away used wigs. “Some hospitals won’t allow us to have used wigs because of low-immune patients,” Wood said. The agency decided to have the same rules nationwide, and to end its role in running “wig banks,” which provide cleaned used wigs to patients.
At the same time, Wood said, the American Cancer Society would like to find another organization in the Everett area to take on the project of accepting and giving away used wigs. “We don’t want to lose the service in the community,” she said. “We’re hoping an organization will take all these used wigs. We want to teach somebody how to run a used wig bank.”
Wood said the American Cancer Society would help train another group in how to care for, clean and fit the wigs. Ideally, the group would be open at least two days a week to serve patients. If the Healing Spirit Boutique continues to get donations of used wigs, Wood said, those would go to the new site.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to put a smile on a cancer patient’s face,” Wood said.
Kathy Reiff, a patient navigator at the Providence Regional Cancer Partnership, oversees volunteers at the boutique. With money raised at Loudenback’s Wigstock, Reiff said the boutique will put in a big order for wigs at discounted prices. Otherwise, they would cost up to $200, she said.
Women of all ages are helped. “We’ll call and say we need 25 gray wigs, 15 brunette, maybe four really long ones,” Reiff said. “We get some really young women, and it’s so traumatic for them.”
Reiff also remembers helping an 86-year-old patient who was losing her hair.
“She and her husband spent a long time here,” Reiff said. “When she put on the wig that was the right one, she smiled, looked at her husband, and said ‘I feel pretty again.’ It was just so sweet.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to help
The Cancer Patients Assistance Fund, administered by the Providence General Foundation, provides patient support through gifts of gas and grocery cards, payment of bills, and wigs and other items at the Healing Spirit Boutique at the Providence Regional Cancer Partnership in Everett. To donate, send checks to: the Providence General Foundation, and designate donation to the Cancer Patients Assistance Fund, P.O. Box 1067, Everett, WA 98206.
The Healing Spirit Boutique is in the Providence Regional Cancer Partnership, 1717 13th St., Everett. Information: 425-297-5507.
Organizations interested in taking over a used-wig program, contact Jerri Wood at email@example.com.