Story and photo by Debbi Casini Klein | Audio edited by Louis D’Aria
For women going through chemotherapy, many may think that hair loss must be the least of their concerns.
Quite the contrary, it can be one of the most traumatic aspects of chemotherapy: a loss of their identity and a clear reality of their disease.
Ray Leonard is a hairstylist women with cancer turn to when they experience hair loss, but they often come away with more than just a wig.
“He makes you feel so comfortable from day one,” said Carol Goldstein, who was stricken with cancer three years ago. “He’d come in and spend an hour and a half, or longer with me, sometimes two hours. He’s just so compassionate, sweet and kind. When you’re able to talk to someone, it is like therapy.”
“When somebody comes in to you and they’ve been recently diagnosed, they walk in, and you know they don’t want to be here, it’s the last thing they ever wanted to buy,” Ray said.
Women all over Pittsburgh come to Ray because he’s known for the time he takes and the comfort he gives, customizing wigs to make them feel like themselves again. He’s donated his time and his wigs to cancer charities, taken wigs to patients in hospitals and willingly makes house calls if someone does not want to be seen at the salon.
“A lot of times people are very insecure about people finding out either they’re not well or they need a wig or something,” Ray said. “I have gone to different people’s houses so they didn’t have to come out.”
Ray even makes wigs ahead of time for those afraid of doing chemotherapy.
“I’ve had people who say they will not get the treatment because they will lose their hair,” he said. “I do the wig ahead of time, I have them take the wig home and I have the family look at it. It gives them the confidence that they will look like themselves, and the family helps reassure this.”
Terri Morrow works at the salon with Ray and has seen him deal with these delicate situations.
“I feel he gives women that go through something like this hope, that things will get better, and that he helps them feel good about who they are inside,” Terri said.