Strands of Hope: Breast cancer survivor's journey to ‘get her beauty back’
Peggy Burnham of Studio 9 Salon (left) and Hanh Tran with SHE Hair Extensions by SO.CAP. USA, apply hair extensions including the Pink Hair for Hope extensions to breast cancer survivor Sherry Gray on Monday.
Saturday, 29 May 2010 14:10 By CINDY ROLLER, News-Telegram Feature Writer
At 9 a.m. Monday morning, breast cancer survivor Sherry Gray walked into Studio 9 Salon with an orange ball cap masking her short ’do on her head and little self-confidence. Eleven hours later she walked out “a new woman” with long strands of hair flowing over her shoulders and a tear-filled smile on her face. “I wanted to find the beauty that was taken from me,” said Gray prior to her day at the salon. “I don't mean just my outward appearance — when I look in the mirror I want to see the woman I was before cancer.”
The stylists at Studio 9 Salon donate a lot of time to support charitable causes, like Locks of Love and Pink Hair for Hope, and the National Breast Cancer Foundation. They even sent hair trimmings to help in the Gulf oil spill relief efforts. But this week, they took their dedication to another level.
Just over eight months ago, Gray, who lives in Mount Pleasant, described herself as an adventurous, free-spirited and independent person who enjoyed caring for others around her.
“I thought I had the world by the tail, and I was stopped dead in my tracks,” Gray said of being diagnosed with breast cancer on Oct. 20, 2009. As happens with many chemotherapy patients, Gray's long hair began to fall out 11 days after her first chemotherapy session. Along with the hair loss, Gray experienced a 20-pound weight gain as another side effect of the treatments.
“I felt fat and ugly, and I thought I would never be able to go out in public again,” Gray grimly recalled. “My independence, my hair and then my breast would all be taken from me.”
In February of this year, Gray had a final surgery and completed radiation. It was over. She made it. She defeated her cancer.
“I made it; however, I still had to face another challenge — I looked like a boy,” Gray noted, saying her worst fears were realized. . Gray spent weeks searching the Internet for professional salons who offered hair extensions. While she found plenty, she never felt confident with the information the salons provided. During her computer search, a story about Pink Hair for Hope “popped onto my screen” which led her to SHE Hair Extensions by SO.CAP. USA and, eventually to Peggy Burnham, owner of Studio 9 Salon.
“I originally thought I wouldn't be able to help Sherry due to the length of her hair until Hanh Tran from SHE Hair Extensions contacted me,” the salon owner said as Gray sat crying in Burnham's chair. “Hanh said they have a new [Firex] machine that would enable me to help her.” Hanh, a regional director of education with SHE Hair Extensions by SO.CAP. USA, and David Lousana, her husband and personal assistant who also runs SHE Hair Extensions SO.CAP. USA for Texas, soon mapped a route to Suite 16 at 101 Bill Bradford Road and Studio 9 Salon in Sulphur Springs.
“There are tons of cancer patients in need,” Tran said. “We are working with one salon, one hair stylist, one head at a time, to help.” Tran and Burnham used more than 300 Exten Sive semi-permanent hair extensions that only require minor re-adjustments after two months, but usually last up to eight months with the proper care.
The extensions are 100 percent real human hair applied with a warm fusion technique “that is getting into perfection,” to give a more natural look and weightless feel. With 86 hair color options in three different textures available, the duo used a combination of colors, doing their best to recreate Gray's pre-cancer hairstyle.
The average cost for a full set of extensions is $3,000. In Gray's case, SHE Hair Extensions by SO.CAP. USA picked up the tab. “Everything went so quickly, just like when I was first diagnosed,” Gray said. “Within days I had a response and an appointment.”
“I contacted the president of the company,” said Tran. “He insisted on over-nighting the hair.” With it came pink hair highlights Gray insisted on as well. In the Pink Hair for Hope campaign individuals can have a lock of SO.CAP's signature pink hair extension added to their own locks for a $10 donation to the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF). To date this campaign has brought together more than 375 salons and donated nearly $1 million to fight breast cancer.
Observer Judy Gray, Sherry's mother, even had a strand of pink added to her beautiful white hair in support. “I think I was most moved by Peggy. She cleared her entire schedule, canceling all her clients for the day, donating her time,” an overjoyed Gray said. “It is just amazing what she did for me, a complete stranger. Somehow, someway I am going to find a way to pay it forward.” Her first stop Monday night was to see her nephew Bryan Rosewell, who originally suggested the hair extension idea. Later she wanted to see the reaction of her 4-year-old nephew Rylee French, who had been allowed to help his aunt pull the first hairs from her head in December. “We wanted him [Rylee] to adjust to my bald head,” Gray said remembering how he kissed it and prayed for the “cancer to go away, now!” Little Rylee looked up at his aunt after his pre-kindergarten graduation Thursday night. “You grew your hair out,” he said confusingly, as she explained it to him. She made another stop by the Cancer Center in Mount Pleasant, where the nurses were described as thrilled and excited about spreading the joyous information to other patients.
Gray is more than willing to share her story. “I want so many people to know their quest for helping others,” she said.