Arizona nonprofit provides more than vanity
A matriarch of a family is oftentimes the glue that holds it together, and just as cruel as the disease itself, a cancer diagnosis can shake a family to its core.
Another reality of the indiscriminate affliction is it will strike at any time, to anyone—no matter what is going on around them. Valley resident Chelsea Kunde lived through a cancer diagnosis that came in the most unpredictable time of her life.
“Chelsea Kunde was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of 26, only three months before her wedding,” said Kendall Chester, administrative director at Wigged Out, Inc., a Scottsdale-based nonprofit.
“During a time that should be filled with joyful anticipation, Chelsea faced an uncertain future and experienced first-hand the devastating emotional and physical toll that a cancer diagnosis, treatments and resulting hair loss takes.”
That was 2012. Today, Ms. Chester explains finding a solution to hair loss sustained by herself, Ms. Kunde’s focus turned to other women going through similar situations. That spirit of service has now sprouted into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit coined, “Wigged Out Inc.,” providing wigs for women who want them.
“This experience led Chelsea and her close friends to come together to find a way to help other women in similar circumstances, as they learned that the high cost of wigs and hairpieces can be financially prohibitive for many people,” Ms. Chester said of the humble origins of Wigged Out.
“Having experienced hair loss firsthand, Chelsea understood how important it was to have a wig to help return a sense of self, confidence and normalcy during an emotionally and physically difficult time. Thus, Wigged Out, Inc. was born, and has steadily grown ever since.”
Cancer afflicts the person and those who love them most during a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatments, Ms. Chester points out.
“Our applicants tell us over and over that along with the physical side effects of treatment, they have lost a sense of themselves,” she said.
“Wigs are often seen as vanity items, although in situations involving medically related hair loss, they are more akin to a medical prosthesis, much like a prosthetic leg would be used after an amputation. Unfortunately, wigs are not covered by the vast majority of insurance plans, and the high cost of a quality wig puts them out of reach for many people with cancer or other ailments when they are often already trying to stay afloat with the cost of treatment and basic expenses.”
The primary mission of support
Ms. Chester said the No. 1 purpose of Wigged Out is to help when it is needed most.
“The mission of Wigged Out is to provide financial assistance for a wig or head covering to women and children who have experienced medically related hair loss, in order to help restore a sense of self, confidence and normalcy,” she said. “Family members often feel helpless during a loved one’s health journey, and we receive many applications on behalf of the mothers or sisters that are going through treatment. Most family members want to do something to help, and we are glad to be able to provide one way to give support to their loved ones.”
Drawing clients from all over the Phoenix area, Ms. Chester explains, many clients reach out for information and help early on in a cancer treatment process.
“Women often seek the assistance of Wigged Out shortly before or shortly after beginning treatment, when hair loss is either imminent or has recently begun,” she said. “Typically during this time, women are experiencing a wide variety of emotions, ranging from concern over their treatment outcomes, fear and embarrassment over their hair loss, and worry about the financial impact of treatment.”
Relief comes in all forms, Ms. Chester offers.
“All of those create a lot of stress, on top of the other physical side effects of cancer treatments,” she said. “So, the support that Wigged Out is able to provide during this time helps to alleviate at least a bit of those concern and provides some relief.”
The Charro connection
For 60 years, the Scottsdale Charros have been in constant pursuit of improving the lives of Scottsdale residents while preserving the community’s ties to its western heritage.
“We are living in a time of uncertainty. The COVID pandemic has affected everyone in some way, straining emotional resources, financial resources, and oftentimes both,” said Scottsdale Charro Dr. Joe Deka. “A cancer diagnosis can be a crushing blow at any time, much less in the midst of a pandemic.”
In this current giving year, the Charro Foundation provided Wigged Out, Inc. with a $5,000 grant meant to go toward providing wigs for women in need.
The buck stops with Ms. Chester at Wigged Out.
“The funding from the Charro Foundation will go toward supporting approximately 20 wigs for women and children,” she said of where Charro dollars will go. “On average, we award about $250 per person to be able to provide a high-quality, long-lasting wig that the applicant is able to choose themselves from a reputable wig boutique in the Valley.”
The cruel cancer illness attacks all, no matter where one calls home in the Phoenix metropolitan area, Ms. Chester points out of where clientele comes from.
“The women and children we help are all located in Arizona,” she said.
“The vast majority are in Maricopa County. We do receive some applications from surrounding, smaller communities in Arizona, mostly from women traveling into the Phoenix area for treatment. All of our funding stays local. Most of our applicants are referred to us by the wig boutiques that we partner with, doctors and nurse navigators they work with, or by word of mouth from family and friends.”
But just as the illness may impact us all, it’s the local communities that help those afflicted get through, Dr. Deka explains.
“Our community is what makes us great as a city,” he said. “Wigged Out was started by community members looking for a way to help the folks around them, and we all need a little help sometimes. For many women, hair loss can seem like a loss of identity or feeling ‘whole’ and Wigged Out helps women and children regain that sense of self and self-confidence.”
Dr. Deka says he is a part of a greater effort for good with his commitment to volunteerism through the Scottsdale Charros.
“It is vitally important to us to rally around each other and set an example for what it looks like when a community refuses to buckle,” he said.
“Many families and businesses large and small have been devastated over the course of the pandemic. Many of our city’s charity organizations are folks’ lifeline right now and are relying on those around them to give back. This can be done directly or through organizations like the Charros, whose mission it is to get help to those that need it most in our community—I’m honored to be a small part of that.”
Lending A Helping Hand to a Loved One
“Family members often feel helpless during a loved one’s health journey, and we receive many applications on behalf of the mothers or sisters that are going through treatment. Most family members want to do something to help, and we are glad to be able to provide one way to give support to their loved ones.”
By Terrance Thornton
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