The first thing you notice about Tina Herold–besides sparkling blue eyes and an electric smile–is her gorgeous red hair. Short, perfectly coiffed, well-placed highlights and dynamite texture–you wonder if the woman ever has a bad hair day.
And then she takes her hair off.
Underneath Herold’s wig is not only a trendy, cropped dark brown hair style cut by her husband, Scott, but also the poignant story behind her penchant for wearing wigs.
Herold was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006 when she was 34 years old. The young mother discovered a lump while taking a shower but didn’t label the raised area as remotely cancerous because it was situated high above the breast. Herold didn’t have a history of breast cancer in her family, a fact that she thought almost guaranteed a cancer-free pass for life. She scheduled an appointment with her primary care physician when a tingling in her arm and a general chest discomfort sent off internal alarms.
“We were living in Washington state at the time, on a two-year assignment for Scott’s job,” says Herold.
Herold was uncomfortable with an initial medical opinion that the raised bump was in all probability a cyst and sought counsel with a Harvard-educated doctor friend. Following a mammogram, sonogram and finally a biopsy–after which the doctors told her they would be stunned if the sample came back malignant–Herold was given the news that every woman dreads.
She had Stage II breast cancer–an 8-milimeter tumor, about the size of a pea. And it was aggressive.
“I was informed for the first time that a woman’s breast tissue goes all the way to her collarbone, something no doctor had ever mentioned,” says Herold. “That’s where my tumor was located.”
Thus Herold began a grueling journey that millions of women embark on every year. Doctors, consultations, chemotherapy protocols, radiation, fear and the side effects that accompany breast cancer treatment. Night sweats. A one-way ticket to early menopause. Unforgiving nausea. Hair loss.
“Everything that I thought drastically reduced my chance of having breast cancer–including a clean family history–didn’t matter,” says Herold. “I had my daughters before I turned 30, ate healthy, didn’t drink or smoke. I thought I was invincible.”
Herold started chemotherapy on Dec. 7 of that year, and daughters Sumner and Porter shaved their mom’s head on Christmas Day, each taking a turn with round-tip scissors. She decided not to tell anyone about her new status as a cancer patient except her best friend and parents. Herold, an eternal optimist and exuberant individual, became a self-described emotional mess with her esteem plummeting and an incessant reel of “What could I have done differently?” running through her head 24 hours a day.
“I just couldn’t fathom that I had cancer,” admits Herold.
Herold sported long, blonde locks when she began her cancer odyssey. When those tresses started falling out in clumps, thanks to vicious chemo drugs, Herold acknowledged her disease as a real and potential killer.
“It was incredibly sad to lose my hair,” recalls Herold. “As women, we frequently identify ourselves by our outsides.”
Herold and her husband began shopping for wigs, a process that became at once frustrating, discouraging and humiliating.
“We went into store after store where proprietors and salespeople were indifferent and sometimes even rude,” says Herold. “I finally found a blonde wig I liked. It didn’t feel or look fake.”
Herold says she began having fun with her newfound personal style, swapping out a short wig for a long one, a frisky style for a more classic cut. And then during the final round of chemotherapy–round number eight–Herold ordered a wig that caught her attention. The color was a dramatic departure from her blonde hair.
It was cabernet red.
It was on a retail therapy trip to Portland, Ore. in early 2007 that Herold had an epiphany and realized exactly how her experience, strength and hope with cancer could impact others. She was in Nordstrom, and a stranger approached Herold to compliment her fashionable hair.
“It took me by surprise,” says Herold. “For the first time I was able to tell someone other than my intimate circle that I had cancer and was wearing a wig.”
The Herolds moved back to Overland Park in June 2007 and when she went wig shopping with a friend who had reoccurrence of Stage IV breast cancer, she relived her personal expeditions. Herold told Scott she was going to open a wig boutique to help women find strength while battling cancer. She opened her by-appointment-only business in October 2008, two years following her surgery, and hired a branding company to develop a hip logo and Web site for Wigged Out.
The company’s motto?
“Great hair every day,” says Herold. “I now share my life story with clients and help lessen their anxiety, answer questions and let them express emotions in a private setting.”
Herold’s friend Laura Plunkett passed away from her disease in December 2008. Every time Herold works with a client to help choose a wig from Wigged Out’s large inventory, she remembers her friend who so valiantly fought.
“I have gratitude and feel blessed every day,” says Herold. “Scott calls me a cancer coach.”
Verda Salberg is a Wigged Out client who was diagnosed in October 2008 with breast cancer. She was at an extremely low point in her treatment when she met Herold.
“Tina is an incredible resource and has helped me find my optimism,” says Salberg. “She made me feel beautiful.”
Herold offers wig parties through Wigged Out, fits young cancer patients with wigs at Children’s Mercy Hospital and is active in many breast cancer-related organizations that support research.
“It’s all been a life-changing transformation,” says Herold. “And the fact that I’m able to share my experience, raise awareness and help women with their self-esteem during a tumultuous time–that’s a golden bonus.”
words: Kimberly Stern
photos: Amy Goodwin of T L Goodwin Photography