Metro Detroiter helps cancer patients find the right wig

Sunday, 08 October 2017, 05:24:54 PM. By helping to fashion wigs, Marlene Rosenberg gives cancer patients “the confidence to thrive.”

Wigs of different colors, lengths and styles line the walls of a small, private room inside the Henry Ford Medical Center, Columbus in Novi. 

Patients may walk in feeling uneasy or hesitant.

It’s Marlene Rosenberg’s hope that they walk out with “the confidence to thrive”— the motto of her foundation.

Marlene’s Wigs with Love provides wigs to women diagnosed with cancer to help them cope with the emotional and physical changes that often come with treatment.

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A few months ago, Cadira Michilak, 53 of Canton, along with her husband and son visited so she could be fitted for a wig. Michilak has stage 2 breast cancer. Her oncologist referred her to Rosenberg because chemotherapy is expected to rob her of her hair.          

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Stage 2 breast cancer patient, Cadira Michalak, 53, of Canton, wears the wig styled by Marlene Rosenberg at Henry Ford Medical Center in Novi on Tuesday, August 1, 2017. (Photo: Rodney Coleman-Robinson, Special to the Free Press)

“I was very nervous coming in, didn’t know what to expect, but it exceeded my expectations,” Michilak, says. “Marlene made me feel very comfortable, and I like the fact that we’re in a private setting; whereas if you go to a regular wig store, you may not have that one-on-one consultation. And it just makes me more confident going into this.”

Along with a wig, each patient receives a care kit including shampoo, a brush, a wig stand, a turban, and a nightcap — all free of charge.

Rosenberg, 69, knew since she was 10 years old that she wanted to do hair. But marriage and the desire to be a stay-at-home mother to her children delayed her entry into the profession.

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Marlene Rosenberg, 70, of Bloomfield Hills, styles wigs for cancer patients at no cost at the Henry Ford Medical Center in Novi.  (Photo: Rodney Coleman-Robinson, Special to the Free Press)

It wasn’t until she was 37 years old that she began working at a suburban Detroit salon. She started volunteering there to retrain herself since she’d earned her cosmetology degree 20 years prior.

“You know something I always say? ‘When you finish school, school begins,’ ‘’ she says. “You have a lot more to learn. Once you graduate from anywhere, you still have more to learn. You have a lot of time to build up the experience that will dictate who you really are."

She worked at several salons in the metro Detroit area for more than 20 years.  Then tendonitis stopped her. The pain in her hands made it too difficult for her to keep up with steady salon work, she says.

Soon after she retired, one of her best friends was diagnosed with cancer.  Rosenberg was not only her best friend, but had also been her hair stylist for 15 years.

“Marlene, only you can do my hair. Help me with a wig,” her friend said. They went to a wig store, picked one out and Rosenberg cut it for her.

Not long afterward, her neighbor was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Rosenberg did the same for her.

Others followed through friendship or referral.

Rosenberg realized she’d found her calling.

She started the Marlene’s Wigs with Love program. Her father donated money to the Henry Ford Medical Center in West Bloomfield to help her start her program in 2008.

“The West Bloomfield Henry Ford had just broke ground and my father and mother decided that it had a lot of possibilities for them,” Rosenberg says.          

Henry Ford gave her a room for her services, but for the first year and a half of the program she bought the wigs herself.

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This is a photo of one of Marlene Rosenberg's wigs at her shop located at Henry Ford Medical Center in Novi. (Photo: Rodney Coleman-Robinson, Special to the Free Press)

But as word of her service spread, donations began coming in from oncologists, cancer survivors and others. The Henry Ford oncologists, Rosenberg says, are some of her biggest supporters.

Cory DeBellis, the nurse leader for the Henry Ford-Columbus Oncology Department says that they make all of their patients aware of Rosenberg’s service and the majority of them go through her.

“It’s a wonderful service she provides,” DeBellis says. “The reality of hair loss can be very dramatic and hard for the patient. ‘Am I going to lose my hair?’ is often the first question that we get asked. Having this option is so wonderful especially because it’s free. It’s a coping tool for them. It helps them feel normal, and it really does impact their ability to get through treatment.”

Rosenberg’s service has continued to grow over the years and has touched the lives of not only the patients, but their communities as well.

“I have helped over 1,000 women in nine years,” she says. “And really, it has been 10,000 people because I’ve also helped the families and friends of these women."

Henry Ford Health System has plans to build a brand new cancer center which is expected to involve and expand Marlene's Wigs with Love.

The Brigitte Harris Cancer Pavilion is expected to open in 2020 and will be located near the hospital’s main campus, south of West Grand Boulevard, in Detroit.

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Marlene Rosenberg, 70, of Bloomfield Hills, styles Cadira Michalak, 53, of Canton, wig on Tuesday, August 1, 2017, at Henry Ford Medical Center in Novi.  (Photo: Rodney Coleman-Robinson, Special to the Free Press)

Rosenberg plans to travel back and forth to each location.

“I am here for the uptown people and I’ll be there for the downtown people,” she says.

Marlene’s Wigs with Love is a 100 percent free service and any Henry Ford patient is welcome with or without insurance. It is now fully funded by donations from patients, doctors, and members of the community.

How to help

  •    If you’d like to donate to Marlene’s Wigs with Love, please call 313-876-1031 or go to HenryFord.com/giving.  To schedule an appointment, call the Henry Ford Medical Center Oncology Department at 248-344-736

Free mammogram screenings 

  • UAW-Ford is offering free mammogram screenings for uninsured and underinsured women at Northland Radiology, 20905 Greenfield Road, Southfield. The mammograms will be available by appointment from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Oct. 16-21 and Oct. 23-28. Additionally, Northland Radiology will provide complimentary shuttle transportation for women who have arranged appointments. To schedule a free, confidential screening call: 313-392-7398.   

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