Salon manager collects wigs for cancer patients


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After her own experience losing her hair from breast cancer treatments, Dawn Russo started WIGS, a nonprofit providing wigs and other support to other women fighting the disease.

Photo Courtesy of Yvette Gioia/Gioia Photography

Dawn Russo is an expert in women’s hair. As district manager for Imperial Salon locations in Suntree and Indian Harbour Beach, she knows that the way a woman’s hair looks is often integral to her confidence and identity. 

That’s what made her Stage IV invasive lobular carcinoma breast cancer diagnosis in March 2014 especially devastating. Russo knew she would lose her hair due to the cancer-fighting treatments.

Like most women who experience the same diagnosis, Russo immediately went out and bought several wigs. They were expensive, but she couldn’t stand the idea of not having any hair.

“Losing your hair is incredibly traumatic, even if you know it is because of treatment that is saving your life,” said Russo, who underwent six rounds of chemotherapy, radiation treatment and a double mastectomy before being declared cancer-free. 

While the wigs initially brought her comfort, Russo quickly grew tired of them. They were hot, uncomfortable and just not natural. She soon decided that she’d rather just be completely bald than to have to wear them anymore. 

“When I ripped that wig off, it was empowering,” she said. Along with new self-confidence, she was left with a lot of expensive wigs that she no longer needed. The idea for Women in God Strong, or WIGS, was born.

“I have the shampooing and drying mechanisms to disinfect wigs and get them ready for a new owner,” she said. “I started to reach out to other people to donate their old wigs too, so that other women with cancer don’t have to spend a lot on them.”

In the short time the 501(c)(3) nonprofit has been in operation, Russo has seen an outpouring of community support. Many people simply want to know how to help. Russo has added a “donate” button on the WIGS website, and is also planning some upcoming fundraising events. 

On Thursday, July 16, WIGS will host a fundraiser at Tuscany Grill, 7640 N. Wickham Rd., to benefit the cause. The Painting for WIGS event will be from 6 to 8:30 p.m. and costs $40 per person. The painting event will be hosted by artist Michelle Nicodemus with Art Tango. 

“I just want to get the word out and also give women some support and confidence during such an overwhelming time,” Russo said. 

For more information on the event, or to find out how to donate to WIGS, go to womeningodstrong.com