Cancer survivor Chris Chapman, TV and radio personality Lynne Hayes-Freeland, salon owner Latoya Johnson-Rainey

Sparkt Bridges

Black Hair Matters: Group Brings Hope And Help to Black Women With Cancer

They're making sure African American women look their best as they battle their disease.

This story is part of a bi-weekly series that celebrates people who are reaching across a divide to "build bridges" with those different from themselves. The Sparkt Bridges series is made possible with the support of UPMC.

A cancer diagnosis is life changing. And then, for women at least, comes the devastating realization that soon, you'll lose your hair.

"It's tough. It's our crowning glory. It's part of our vanity," said Chris Chapman of Pittsburgh, thinking back to when she was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago at age 53. "I didn't want people to feel sorry for me."

Chris Chapman and her daughter at the end of her treatment. Until her hair started growing back, Chris wore a wig.

A friend told Chris about Hair Peace Charities, an organization that supports women with cancer, including providing grants for women to get quality wigs to wear during chemotherapy and recovery.

At the time of Chris' treatment, there weren't a lot of options for African American women, besides cheaper, low-quality "fashion" wigs. But now that's all changing, and Hair Peace is getting out the word.

Hair Peace founder, Pittsburgh radio traffic reporter Bonny Diver, says her group discovered about a year ago that they weren't getting a lot of referrals from African American women.

"And so I thought, we're missing a population," said Diver. No matter whether you're African American or white or whatever, you're a woman. Cancer doesn't care who you are, and we wanted to make sure we were filling that gap."

Chris Chapman and Hair Peace founder, Bonny Diver

For Chris, Hair Peace and Bonny were a godsend, so much so that she's now serving on the group's Board of Directors, helping other women, especially black women, find comfort in looking as normal as possible during chemo. She says her wig got her through the toughest time in her life, until that day she could put it away for good. Then, "it was time for me to be free and be myself and who I wanted to be."

The Sparkt Bridges Project is produced with the generous support of UPMC. Life Changing Medicine.

How can you start something good?

If you're a woman or girl fighting cancer and would like support and help purchasing a quality wig designed just for you, contact Bonny at 412-327-5177.

If you're inspired by the way Hair Peace Charities serves women fighting cancer here are some ways to get involved:

Make a financial donation. A gift of $200 funds a wig for a woman who needs one.

Donate a gently used wig you no longer need. Click here to find out how.

Volunteer. E-mail Debbie Lazarotta to sign up.

If you're looking for a salon in Pittsburgh that specializes in selecting and fitting wigs for African American women going through cancer, A Hair Boutique in Pittsburgh's Shadyside neighborhood is the salon featured in this story.

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