Mumbai

Helping cancer patients feel beautiful again

Spreading joy: Neelam Gehani says she can never forget the smile on the face of the first cancer patient she made a wig for.

Spreading joy: Neelam Gehani says she can never forget the smile on the face of the first cancer patient she made a wig for.  

Neelam Gehani makes wigs for post-chemotherapy women; encourages people to donate hair

Mumbai: Neelam Gehani ran a flourishing beauty business in Andheri, but an unusual client who walked into her parlour a decade ago changed the course of her life — and gave her work a new purpose.

The client was suffering from cancer, and needed a wig to conceal the effects of chemotherapy. All this was very new to Ms. Gehani. “I was surprised to know that such patients, even though they are ultimately cured of cancer, lose all their hair following chemotherapy. This causes them great mental agony as they are unable to move out, and tend to have psychological problems.”

Ms. Gehani asked the client to come back in a few days. After the day’s work was done, she got down to researching hair products on the internet, and found some sources and suppliers. Soon enough, Ms. Gehani kept her word and gave the woman a wig. “I can never forget the joyful smile on her face as I handed over the wig,” she says.

Synthetic wigs

However, during her research, Ms. Gehani found that the wigs made of real hair were unaffordable to many — they can range from ₹8,500 to ₹25,000, depending on size, texture and the quantity of hair.

“I felt I could make these wigs cost effective by cutting raw material costs and thus came up with the idea of donating hair,” she adds. “If a person donates her hair or a friend or relative donates hair for that person and it’s sufficient enough to make a wig, only making charges are taken.”

What’s more, “having wigs made from their own hair or from the hair of friends and relatives actually increases patients’ comfort levels”.

Neelam’s Beauty & Medicare (NB&MC) also provides synthetic wigs for patients. To those who cannot afford them, synthetic wigs are given free of cost. “Till date, NB&MC has given around 250 synthetic wigs free of cost, either directly from us or through NGOs,” says Ms. Gehani. However, for all the patients, hair styling is done free of cost. The price range of synthetic wigs varies from ₹500 to ₹5,000. Some of the material for making wigs is bought from different parts of Mumbai, but the final product is made in the NB&MC workshop at Andheri.

The beginning

A software engineer by profession, Ms. Gehani gave up her job as a Project Manager with TCS and Patni Computers in 2003 when she became pregnant. She started NB&MC in 2005 with the aim of keeping herself occupied. However, there was always an inherent desire to work for society.

A banner outside her Andheri salon reads, “You donate money, blood and organs to be charitable. Now donate hair for deserving patients and earn their blessings.”

Ms. Gehani has been conducting hair donation drives as well as spreading awareness to donate hair for making wigs for cancer and alopecia patients. “We are associated with all major hospitals in Mumbai, where we try to encourage patients to donate hair before the start of their treatment/chemotherapy to enable us to make wigs from their own hair,” says Ms. Gehani.

A wider net

Ms. Gehani also learnt that women who suffer from breast cancer are required to undergo mastectomy to prevent its spread. Many of them look for substitutes to appear normal. This led her to do some more research as to who could provide artificial and comfortable breast prosthesis at reasonable prices so that NB&MC could fulfill the requirements of all women cancer patients.

“For post-mastectomy patients who do not opt for silicone breast prosthesis, NB&MC provides latex breast prosthesis. These are usually not commonly available. We not only provide these at subsidised rates, but also give the option of pocket/holding bras (cotton bras with pockets),” says Ms. Gehani.

Drive gains momentum

Over the years, Ms. Gehani’s hair donation drive has started gaining momentum and people have started coming to her salon to donate hair voluntarily.

Says Chanda Joshi (50), a resident of Khar, “When I heard about this initiative, I decided to donate my hair for the cause. We cannot reduce the pain or the suffering of cancer patients. The least we can do is to give them hair.” She donated around 12 inches of hair last Sunday.

For Taerra Banaji (15), a Class XI student at Kodaikanal International School, “Donating hair was a satisfying experience. It feels nice to know that a little gesture like this can bring immense happiness to someone.” She donated around 10 inches of hair last week.

Chaitya Gala (18), a second-year BSc student of Thakur College, Kandivali, who donated around 13 inches of hair, feels more people should come forward for this cause. “Wherever I go, I try to spread awareness and urge people to donate their hair in large numbers,” he says.

Himali Shinde (36), a resident of Juhu and a cancer survivor, is one of the recipients of a wig donated by a 13-year-old girl. “I was so touched by the gesture of such a young child. She had donated her hair against the wishes of her grandparents,” she says.

Vandana Gupta, Founder President of V Care, an NGO for cancer patients, is appreciative of Ms. Gehani’s initiative.“NB&MC has been associated with us since a long period. She conducts hair donation campaigns and not only makes wigs free of cost to those who donate hair but gives them free styling. Supporters and well wishers like her give us hope and motivate us to move forward.”

Growing this initiative is Ms. Gehani’s aim as well. “It is my desire that more people come to know about this initiative to enable me to help several people.”

Snapshot:

Neelam’s Beauty and Medi Care

Founder: Neelam Gehani

Funding: Bootstrapped

Employees: 11

Website: www.wigoodeal.com

Contact: 9920477521/022 65225562/022 62363778

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Printable version | May 22, 2020 10:36:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/helping-cancer-patients-feel-beautiful-again/article19217456.ece

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