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The Wig Gallery hopes to ease trauma of cancer

Charles Pritchard
Staff writer
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Posted 10/18/22

The road to recovery is long when fighting cancer and tumors, but there’s more to the treatment process than medicine — sometimes it’s just helping people feel normal again.

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The Wig Gallery hopes to ease trauma of cancer

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ROME — The road to recovery is long when fighting cancer and tumors, but there’s more to the treatment process than medicine — sometimes it’s just helping people feel normal again.

Lori Smith is the owner of The Wig Gallery, and in her time, she’s helped numerous women get a sense of normalcy by giving them a full head of hair again.

“I started the Wig Gallery as part of my hair salon around 11 years ago,” Smith said. “This is a special store. And it has to be special because most of my clients are cancer patients.”

Smith said she does everything she can to make people feel comfortable and relaxed in her store, consulting with each person one-on-one in a private setting, and taking the necessary steps for their comfort.

It can be easy to say, “It’s just hair,” but it means a lot to some people.

“It’s important because, as women, our hair is a focal point of our being,” Smith said. “Your hair is a very important part of your look, and it’s emotional when losing it. It’s devastating.”

Britteny Cataldo, a resident of Rome, became a client of Smith’s when she was diagnosed with a meningioma the size of a baseball. She got the diagnosis on Valentine’s Day, 2017, after she had headaches so bad she couldn’t move and was vomiting.

“The doctor sent me for an MRI, and from the MRI, I left in an ambulance to SUNY Upstate Medical University for emergency surgery,” she said. “The first surgery went well. But because of the size and the location, I had to undergo four surgeries in total.”

Cataldo had been growing her hair for her wedding in June of that year, but her whole head was shaved by the end of the third surgery.

“Having long hair and being a woman, it’s a part of you,” she said. “Several times after I shaved my head, I was called ‘sir.’ And it was emotional to hear that.”

Her grandmother, mother, and aunt urged her to look for a wig — something her aunt had experience with.

“My aunt, Laura Ossont, came with me to pick out the wig. She’s a breast cancer survivor and helped me because she’s been through that process,” Cataldo said. “She was an inspiration.”

“I tried on several different wigs in different colors and hairstyles,” she continued. “Lori was great. She was welcoming and understanding. And she made the whole thing fun.”

When asked, Cataldo said getting the wig helped her psychologically, boosting her confidence and emotional state so she could focus on healing.

“It brought back my self-esteem and some happiness in my life,” Cataldo said. “I was feeling normal.”

A testimonial from a breast cancer survivor on Smith’s website reads:

“In January of 2010, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. As superficial as it is, one of my biggest concerns was losing my hair. I felt that losing a breast can be covered up, and no one would know, but when you lose your hair, you carry that stigma around that you are sick,” she wrote. “Because of Lori and her business, I was able to get through one of the worst parts of going through breast cancer in style and grace.”

Smith ran a salon for 30 years before moving over to running The Wig Gallery, and since then, she’s helped people like Cataldo and breast cancer survivors.

And while she’s more than happy to help and has received many thank yous, Smith thanks her clients just as much.

“Everybody who leaves here with a smile makes me feel so good. … And I may be helping them, but they have no idea what they’re doing for my life,” Smith said. “If I knew what I did now 30 years ago, I probably would have never spent 30 years doing hair. Because I’ve had more honor doing wigs than I ever did cutting hair.”

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For more information about The Wig Gallery, call 315-336-0262 or visit https://www.theromewiggallery.com/

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