Strands of Strength

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Empowering women in their fight against cancer

Fighting cancer is a daily battle. Sometimes the challenge is just to try to look and feel like yourself.

Deb Pulver of Des Moines understands. In 2002, Pulver was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 45. Shortly after, chemotherapy caused her hair to fall out. Suddenly the face in the mirror did not look like Deb—it was the face of a cancer patient.

“I didn’t want people to know I was sick,” recalls Pulver. “I didn’t want sympathetic looks. I wanted to be normal.”

Nicole Gerdin and Nancy Gagensick team up to improve patients’ lives.

Nicole Gerdin and Nancy Gagensick team up to improve patients’ lives.

Fortunately for Pulver, she could afford to purchase a quality wig that looked like her natural hair. When a woman at church complimented her hair and asked where she got it cut, Pulver realized she could choose whom she shared her illness with. The wig helped her regain a sense of control over her own life.

After her recovery, Deb Pulver was determined to help other women feel confident in the face of cancer. In 2011, she founded Strands of Strength (SOS), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide wigs free of charge to women suffering hair loss due to cancer treatment that could not otherwise afford to get a wig.

“We’re trying to help women feel empowered,” says Pulver. “Our goal is to give them the personal strength they need so they can successfully fight their disease.”

In 2015, the Community Cancer Center reached out to Pulver’s organization after seeing an article about Strands of Strength’s success in Des Moines. Nancy Hagensick, psychosocial services coordinator at the Community Cancer Center, says, “We’re always looking for innovative services we can bring to our patients.”

SOS agreed to expand to the Cedar Rapids area. Today, the organization has an Eastern Iowa coordinator, Nicole Gerdin, and has established relationships with two Cedar Rapids salons— Advanced Hair Technologies and Jeffrey Scott Salon. Salons are chosen for their expertise with wigs as well as experience working with cancer patients. Women are encouraged to visit the salon before they lose their hair so the professionals can match the wig to their current hairstyle.

Hagensick says SOS works, in part, because it is so simple for the patient. “If a woman is going to have chemotherapy that will lead to hair loss, we talk to her before treatment begins,” explains Hagensick. “We let her know what to expect and what her options are. If she is interested in a wig but can’t afford it, we give her a voucher from SOS. She takes the voucher to one of the participating salons and receives a free wig.”

Pulver credits community support for the success of Strands of Strength. “It’s incredible what people will do when it’s something they care about,” she says. A fundraising luncheon will be held at the Cedar Rapids Country Club on Wednesday, Oct. 19 to support SOS in eastern Iowa.

For more information, contact Nicole Gerdin at (319) 331-4080 or nicole@strandsofstrength.com

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