When 44-year-old Waimea resident Rose Bateman discovered a lump in her breast, this self-described “happy-go-lucky person” wasn’t worried. She dealt with the situation in a very matter-of-fact way. Her plan was to go to the doctor, get a biopsy and have the tumor removed.
Nothing prepared Bateman, a preschool teacher, for the phone call following the biopsy in January. While at work, Bateman answered her doctor’s call without hesitation. His conclusion hit her like a sucker punch. She had stage three breast cancer — a fact that made her want to fall to the ground. Instead, Bateman removed herself from school to take a moment to absorb what she heard and decide her next action. “Move forward,” she told herself.
Because of the size of tumor and aggressiveness of the cancer, Bateman had in February a double mastectomy — a procedure she was OK with, especially upon learning about the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights’ Act. This act mandates that if a group health plan, insurance company or health maintenance organization covers mastectomies, the plan must also cover reconstructive surgery and other post-mastectomy benefits, she said. Then in April, Bateman began chemotherapy.
Bravely, Bateman recalled how overwhelmed she felt when her hair began falling out in clumps and her first reactions upon seeing her scars after showering. Bateman said she never really paid much attention to her breasts until they were gone. She was sad when remembering how she breastfed her children and the enjoyment that bonding gave.
Still, it was the loss of her long, curly hair that made her weep the most. Loose hair would unexpectedly fall into her eyes when she was awake and tickle her face while she slept. Prior to treatment, Bateman said she often got compliments about her hair from friends, family and those passing by. It was a part of her, her favorite part. Though she knew it would grow back, it somehow felt like the last straw. It wasn’t long before Bateman cut her hair short and then shaved her head.
“It’s funny how I can lose my breast, have a how dare you take this away from me moment and move on, but with my hair, oh my gosh, I cried and asked God everyday to stop making my hair fall out,” Bateman said. “No one can really prepare you for how difficult it can be to lose your hair as a byproduct of trying to save your life.”
Last week, with her family’s constant encouragement and support, Bateman visited Tiana’s Avon & Wigs, a one-stop shop on Luhia Street in Kailua-Kona that offers wigs, beauty products, jewelry and fragrances. Tiana Steinberg, the owner, has dedicated her life and business to helping cancer survivors and those undergoing treatments for life-threatening diseases.
According to Bateman, Steinberg overflows with positivity. She helped find her perfect hair, build her self-esteem and make her feel beautiful.
“She helped me see myself,” said Bateman, who was initially apprehensive about a wig. “Because of her, people like me have a place to go and anything makes a big difference.”
As a cancer survivor, Steinberg knows how devastating the emotional and physical side effects of cancer treatment can be. For years, she has striven to create a haven for cancer patients like Bateman to discuss aches and pains, latest physical maladies, hopes and wants, struggles and accomplishments, lives and experiences, as well as get important information. Her dream will become a reality next month.
Wigs, turbans and other related products will be available to cancer patients going through treatment free of charge at the new American Cancer Society’s Resource Center Wig Closet in Tiana’s Avon & Wigs. The grand opening will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 1.
“This is a huge accomplishment,” Steinberg said. “Having a desire and having it come to life makes me feel like a proud momma. All I want to do now is show it off, help it grow and, of course, make it pretty.”
The American Cancer Society recognized there was a need for such a center, which Cecily Nago, ACS health initiatives community manager, described as “a wonderful compliment to the multitude of services currently offered.”
The nonprofit closed its West Hawaii office in 2011. Nevertheless, ACS has continued to educate and promote various services and information to residents who call its call center. ACS specialists also interact with cancer patients and survivors at hospitals, during community events and one-on-one appointments. The organization provides patients and families with various services, including rides to doctors’ appointments, plane tickets, taxi vouchers, gas cards and $30 reimbursements for wigs, Nago said.
ACS helped more than 600 cancer patients on the Big Island last year, she added.
At the new center, Steinberg said cancer patients can annually choose one wig from the wide assortment of nearly every color and cut imaginable, including the zany and realistic. They can also select a scarf, turban or hat. The available products are made possible through community fundraising events. Steinberg added, her nonprofit, COMMUNITYCares, which raises funds and promotes awareness for other local nonprofits, will also provide assistance.
Steinberg will teach recipients how to care for their wigs, which will only last up to six months for frequent brushers. She will also show fun ways to deal with alopecia, as well as promote ACS services.
“It’s important for cancer patients to feel good about themselves. This center will not cure cancer or replace treatments, but it may improve attitudes and boost spirits,” Steinberg said. “I hope they walk in one way and walk out more energized, with a new lease on life. This battle, alopecia, is the one they do not have to worry about. Instead, they can focus on getting healthy.”
Steinberg thanked numerous residents, businesses and community groups who have helped with the construction process and setup of the center. Last-minute work is still taking place. But come June 1, the center will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
For more information, call Steinberg at 326-2866 or ACS at 935-0025.