Leslie Love, 59, has been volunteering with the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program for more than 11 years now, assisting patients in the chemo room at the Morris Cancer Clinic. She never thought that she would flip to the other side. But in November 2014, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Losing her hair was traumatic for Love.
“I had huge curly reddish hair, and when it started to come out, it was like “Oh my God, I really have cancer,’” she says.
After her second chemo treatment ,when she got home, she looked at her mom.
“My mom said: ‘It’s time.’ I sat down between her knees like when I was a little girl. She started finger combing my hair, and it was coming out immediately,” Love says.
Love’s granddaughter, who was 10 at the time, asked her, “‘Are you going to be bald?’ And I said: ‘Yes, I’m going to be for a minute, but it will come back.’”
Along with Love’s oldest son, they all sat down in the kitchen to have a farewell ceremony.
“We made a little beautiful altar on the kitchen table with water and white flowers, and we sat there in silence. It was a powerful experience of letting my hair go when all the generations of my family were beside me. We got through it, and not one tear was shed,” she says.
Love started wearing a wig, but after a month she abandoned it.
“I fell in love with my baldness,” she says.
Her friends told her that she looked stunning and that they loved her style.
”I wore big earrings and put on eye shadow, and it looked so natural. Now I don’t take hair that serious. It doesn’t define who I am. I shave it all the time,” Love says.
During her treatments at Duke, Love visited the Belk Boutique, which offers cancer patients gifts such as wigs, hats, scarves, skin care, and makeup. The boutique made her feel that she was not alone.
“At the front of the store they kept a photo book of strong women who had gone through the process of losing their hair, and they were beautiful,” Love says. “I used to flip through the book and cry a little bit, but I got strength from looking at them.”
At the boutique, Love met compassionate volunteers who introduced her to the self-image program and taught her how to put on eyebrows and make her eyes look good, even without eyelashes, and how to style beautiful head wraps.
“It was a safe place for me, a place of refuge,” she says.
Love has been cancer free for more than two years.
"I’m grateful for the journey and that I’m a survivor and able to be here today,” she says.
Now she volunteers at the boutique because she gets the chance to share her story with the many patients who visit.
“I can see the look in their eyes when they come in,” she says. “When they start whispering ’I need to talk to you about wigs, because I think it’s starting to fall,’ I tell them, ‘Come here, let me share my story with you’.”
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Breakthroughs, a magazine produced twice yearly by Duke Cancer Institute Office of Development.
Circle Photo caption: Leslie Love (right) with patient Tahisha Harrison (left) at the Belk Boutique at Duke Cancer Center, which offers wigs, hats, turbans, and scarves free of charge. (photo by Jared Lazarus)