Washington Blade - August 26, 2005
Hair has long been a hallmark of female attractiveness.
In medieval Europe, married women were required to veil their
hair, but unmarried ladies could let their locks swing freely in
hopes of catching an available man.
Muslim women who reveal their hair are sometimes considered
immodest for so flagrantly displaying their beauty.
Some women refuse to leave the house if their hair is
unmanageable. Some dread humid days like others dread the
For female cancer patients, hair loss can represent a
demoralizing side effect of treatment.
"The main concern for women sometimes is the brow loss," says
cosmetologist Sonia Agosto, an image consultant who helps cancer
patients who've lost their hair as a result of medical
Agosto recently became the Virginia state trainer for "Look Good
... Feel Better," a volunteer-driven program sponsored by the
American Cancer Society. In this role, she teaches female cancer
patients beauty techniques if their appearance changes.
Agosto and other cosmetologists also educate women about the
potential dangers that razors, manicures and some cosmetics can
pose to their vulnerable immune systems.
But, she notes, "the physical beginning of the hair loss has got
to be the most alarming and the hardest problem to deal with."
At the same time, she says, everyone's fears are different and
everyone's concerns are different.
Agosto's partner of 21 years, L.A., was diagnosed with breast
cancer in February 2003.
L.A., who asked that her full name not be used, lost her hair
after chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She also underwent a
mastectomy after discovering a lump in her left breast and
insisting that her doctor conduct a more thorough examination,
though an initial mammogram showed there was nothing to worry
The couple shaved L.A.'s head before the treatments beat them to
"We had a very wonderful shaving session," said L.A., who is in
her early 50s. "We cried, and then we laughed and then we shaved
L.A. has been cancer-free for 31 months.
"She's still under a five-year umbrella, so every day is a gift
for us," Agosto says, referring to the time period before medical
practitioners will officially consider her partner cancer-free.
"Look Good ... Feel Better" was founded in 1989 after a physician
asked Ed Kavanaugh, president of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and
Fragrance Association Foundation, a D.C.-based trade association,
to do a makeover for a cancer patient who had become so depressed
over her appearance that she refused to leave her room.
The makeover transformed the woman's attitude. Kavanaugh quickly
realized other women with cancer probably had similar concerns
about their physical appearance.
The Atlanta-based American Cancer Society and the National
Cosmetology Association pitched in to help develop the "Look Good
... Feel Better" program, which has helped more than 430,000 women
Agosto says the program restores a sense of normalcy for women,
many of whom have to continue their jobs despite a cancer
diagnosis or hair loss.
"Their lives really don't stop just because they're now presented
with this challenge," she explains.
Agosto started her volunteer work for cancer patients when she
worked as creative director at the NuYu Salon & Spa Shoppe, in
Alexandria, Va., at 4907 Brenman Park Drive. That business takes
part in the HopeCuts' benefit, sponsored by the City of Hope
National Medical Center and Beckman Research Institute in Los
The benefit involves staff members at salons nationwide working
on their day off to provide customers with various discount
services, from $25 haircuts that normally cost $50 to $12
manicures that usually go for $22. All the money raised that day
will be donated to the City of Hope, a research and treatment
center for patients with cancer and other diseases, including
diabetes and HIV/AIDS.
This year's HopeCuts benefit takes place from noon to 4 p.m.,
Sunday, Aug. 28. Visit www.hopecuts.org for a list of salons in
metropolitan Washington, D.C., that are planning to participate.
Agosto and Cameron Perks Coffeehouse in Alexandria, Va., are
planning a silent auction fund-raiser Sunday from noon-4 p.m., in
conjunction with the benefit.
Agosto now works as an independent image consultant, which leaves
her time to volunteer for the "Look Good ... Feel Better" program.
"Were I in a different scenario, then I would not be able to
volunteer as much," she says.
"It's a wonderful way for me to share what it is that I've done
for over 20 years, which is to help people with their image -
help them feel good about themselves," she says.