Stylist and salon owner Lillian Lee has been doing wonders for women’s self-esteem for decades. After all, the hair of her clients and the wigs that she has styled for years at her eponymous shop is a woman’s crowning glory.
So when an illness such as cancer and its accompanying chemotherapy treatments causes hair loss, it is a feeling — that we should not know from — of a one-two punch. For about a dozen years, Ms. Lee has been softening that blow to women by offering free wigs, which she styles, colors, and customizes to these women — and to many young girls — through the charity she founded, Do Wonders.
“It really started by accident,” said Ms. Lee, who used to do her work from home. A friend of hers was diagnosed with cancer and lost her hair during chemotherapy treatments. She had an unused wig and thought to fix it up and offer it to her friend.
“Her whole attitude changed,” recalled Ms. Lee. “I went on a mission. But this all happened organically. It was nothing I had planned.”
Once her clientele learned about her effort to offer wigs to women during their cancer treatments, there was a groundswell of support from many of her clients, including Orthodox women who wear wigs for religious reasons. The donations started pouring in. Wigs that were being retired would get a new life through the deft and creative touches from Ms. Lee. Reshaping the wig, cutting and coloring, adding to it, resizing it, she was able to breathe new life into the wig, and had more stock to give the women who needed it most.
Aliza Fischman, who grew up in Teaneck as Aliza Novogroder, took up the cause with Ms. Lee and, herself handy with a wig, Ms. Fischman helped in the effort to collect, style and distribute the wigs. These days, she’s handling the fundraising efforts of the nonprofit, which got its legal footing and name from the enthusiastic clients who wanted to support the effort.
“I’m so thrilled, honored and love being involved,” said Ms. Fischman. “A parent comes in here so despondent. Here is their child, who they love so much and they have to fight cancer, which is bad enough. And then there is the emotional hardship of how the other kids will react.
“We’ve heard from so many parents that this just helps them breathe easier. They come in, and they get that wig, and then they look like themselves. They can go out and be a kid.”
Ms. Lee will go into the hospital for the girl if she is unable to come into her salon.
“Someone once asked me, ‘What are you getting out of this?’ I said, ‘Do you see that girl smiling. It’s for that smile.’ I’ve been a stylist for 35 years, and with Do Wonders, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. I’ve discovered my purpose and I am grateful that my career can help so many people. And I know I couldn’t do it without the support of this community.”
And sometimes, Ms. Lee said, the biggest gift is that when the girl is done with her treatments, and done with her wig, she returns it for another recipient to wear. The girl, healthy now, has her hair grown in. And then, she goes to Ms. Lee for her first haircut.
Said Ms. Lee, “The blessings are continuous.”
To donate a wig, contact Lillian Lee, 201-837-6770.
Heidi Mae Bratt is the editor of About Our Children.