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11 Sep 2013

Know Your Neighbors: Meet This Hairdresser Who Tackled Breast Cancer With a Wig and a Smile

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I’m having a bad hair life. Not just a bad hair day … a whole lifetime!

I was born with stringy, straight, thin (and ever-thinning), blonde (well, at least I got something right!) hair. To perm or not to perm? Short or long? Cut or grow? Color, highlight or go natural? Wig or no wig?

Thank God for good hairdressers! And when you go to a salon, doesn’t the hair of the person doing your hair make a difference?

My new role model in life is Cindy Melchor, 53, of La Quinta.

Cindy received a high school equivalency degree at 16. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just knew I didn’t want to go to school. I had been a model once for a neighbor who was in beauty school, and I thought, ‘Why not?’ It looked like something that would get me out of school.”

She attended beauty college at the age of 17, and has been doing hair ever since.

In July 2011, a small, cancerous lump was detected by mammography in one of Cindy’s breasts.

She had to face a real dilemma: She knew the treatment would rob her of her hair.

“I had had lots of clients over the years who had gone through breast cancer. Most of them had done just fine and recovered. I know people die from it, but that never entered my mind. In fact, when the doctor told me, I initially laughed about the absurdity of it.”

Exactly one year before Cindy’s diagnosis, her sister had also been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Cindy Melchor“She was the first one I told, and she just freaked out. But my clients had changed my perspective. I just thought, ‘OK, it’s breast cancer; it’s nothing. Lots of people have had it and turned out just fine.’

“I didn’t look at it as a death sentence. It was just a bump in the road. The only time I cried at all was when I told my daughter.”

Cindy began treatment, first with a lumpectomy, and then chemotherapy for four months. Radiation treatments followed for a couple of months after that.

“After my first treatment, my hair began to disappear. I lost everything—hair on my head, all over my body, my eyelashes and eyebrows. But none of that bothered me as much as having to wear a wig.”

Cindy was uncomfortable with the physical feeling of a wig, although she adds, “The shaved head didn’t bother me. To see yourself bald is really weird. At least I had a decent head!

“I walked around fine at home and around my family. But I wore the wig whenever I went out—even to get the paper. I just felt as if, out in public, everyone knew. When I see someone in the market, bald or wearing a head scarf, I always think, ‘Cancer.’

“For me, going out bald meant people would identify me by the disease, and that bothered me. That part didn’t bother my sister at all.”

Cindy had no discomfort talking about her condition with her clients. “I told everyone. I’ve never been secretive about it.

“Walking into the shop for the first time with the wig on was actually the hardest part of the whole experience. I never hid anything about what I was going through. My clients and co-workers all went through it with me, and that helped, but it made me the center of attention—and I just hate that.”

How long did she wear the wig, and when did her own hair return?

“To look like me, (it was) about six months after I completed chemo,” says Cindy. “I took the wig off when my hair was still very short and spiky. I look at pictures of me during that time, and it just doesn’t look like me. I actually took the wig off too soon.”

Cindy’s twin granddaughters were born just after she stopped wearing her wig, and she now has a third grandchild. “If money was no object, and I could do anything I want, I can’t imagine wanting to do anything other than spend more time with my daughter and grandchildren.”

Does Cindy have any advice for others who have to go through what she did?

“It’s such a personal thing,” she says. “For me, it was about not being the center of attention. You have to do whatever is comfortable. I realized my own vanity and my desire not to be the center of attention, but in the end, what was most important was that the cancer didn’t define me.”

If there is reincarnation, and we have to keep coming back until we’re perfect, I want to come back with Jennifer Aniston’s or Farrah Fawcett’s hair … or as Cindy Melchor.

Oh, and get regular mammograms—just do it!

Anita Rufus is also known as "The Lovable Liberal," and her radio show airs every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM.

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