The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 15, 2002


Transformations owner recaptures the way you were

Clients expect a beautician to make them look better than they did before. If the beautician does a good job, the client will come back. Patricia Doherty Kilfoyle aims for the opposite: her clients expect her to make them look like they did before, and, if all goes well, they probably won't be back. Her primary clients are oncology patients. "Women undergoing treatment for cancer lose their hair and have differences in their skin," says Kilfoyle. "It's a devastating experience."

A Carlisle resident, Kilfoyle owns Transformations, a small business discreetly tucked away on the second floor of 18 Main Street in Concord. A licensed cosmetologist, she uses her 20 years of experience to help clients manage the effects of chemotherapy with wigs, accessories and makeup. Kilfoyle also offers special-occasion and bridal-makeup application.
Patricia Doherty Kilfoyle recommends synthetic wigs to cancer patients trying to deal with temporary hair loss. They are cheaper and easier to maintain than wigs made from natural hair.

Changing addresses in a stable town

A Massachusetts native, Kilfoyle grew up in Medford. She moved to Carlisle from Winchester with husband Tom and five children in 1994. They wanted to live somewhere where they could get a horse. "I love the rural aspects of Carlisle," she says. "It's quiet, it's pretty, and the schools are good."

The Kilfoyles had lived all around town Stearns Street, Rodgers Road, and Red Pine Drive before finally building at 300 West Street three years ago. They knew they liked the town; they just couldn't find the right-sized home and property. Set back at the end of a long private drive, their Greek Revival-style house has enough room for everyone in the family. The barn has space for a horse and a pony. Cats and a dog roam the eight-acre property.

Kilfoyle set aside her career during the years her five children were growing up. Having lost her father to cancer in 1988, she volunteered in the "Look GoodFeel Better" program at Emerson Hospital. The national public service organization, supported by the beauty industry in partnership with the American Cancer Society and the National Cosmetology Association, offers free support to cancer patients and caregivers. Kilfoyle energetically attended the monthly two-hour meetings as well as training sessions for beauticians.

"I realized what a need there is for wigs," recalls Kilfoyle. "In this area, particularly, there are very few places where you can get wigs. Many of the women have to go into Boston." The big city and big stores can intimidate patients, especially those experiencing the diminished self-esteem ensuing from hair loss.

With her oldest son in college and her youngest daughter now 11, Kilfoyle seized the opportunity last fall to get back into the beauty industry. She found suitable space, decorated it stylishly, and ordered supplies. In December, the doors of Transformations opened.

Maintaining a sense of normalcy

About a dozen cancer patients, all women, have already visited Transformations. They usually bring along a friend, husband, or other family member for emotional support. The first session begins with a consultation. Clients usually want the same color and style in a wig as their natural hair. "It's a great time to experiment," explains Kilfoyle, "but I think hair loss is so devastating when it happens, that people are trying to be low-key about their appearance.

"A lot of people first come in when they schedule chemotherapy. So a lot of people come in when they still have hair, and it's easy to match color and style." Depending on the type of treatment, hair loss can happen as quickly as in two weeks.

Kilfoyle stocks a wide variety of wigs from name suppliers such as Revlon, Raquel Welch, and Gabor. The wigs vary in color, length and style. They come in petite, average and large, and she can cut and shape a wig for a client's particular face. Kilfoyle also has catalogs, and can order wigs in a week, or even overnight if necessary.

Cancer patients have little control over treatment schedules. As special family events are often scheduled months in advance, they might have a wedding to attend in the middle of chemotherapy. A wig will enable a patient to share in the event, and still look good. Transformations also stocks alternatives to wigs, such as hats, turbans, and scarves. Makeup can help as well.

"One thing I stress is eyebrows," Kilfoyle says. "Losing your eyebrows takes away from the definition of your face. A lot of expression is conveyed through your eyebrows. So if you see a person without eyebrows, it's sort of a red flag that this person has cancer." The cosmetologist uses powder and pencil to give the illusion of an eyebrow. Perhaps more importantly, the cosmetologist teaches the client how to do it herself.

Recommending synthetic wigs

Cosmetologist Patricia Kilfoyle tries on one of the wigs that might appeal to a younger client. Transformations also stocks ponytails and braids.

Many clients ask Kilfoyle about the differences between human and synthetic hair. Cost is the main concern. The price of synthetic wigs at Transformations ranges between $200 to $500. Wigs constructed from human hair start at $2,000, and are made from natural hair sold abroad. "The hair is colored, processed, and woven into wigs," explains Kilfoyle. "In my opinion, they're not worth the money that you spend on them because they have to be set and blow-dried. They're just like straight, dead hair.

"Wigs from synthetic fiber look very real. They have great colors, and, with highlights, they look very natural. You wash a wig, and hang it up, and it goes right back into the style. You don't have to do anything except fluff it up with your fingers." Today's synthetic wigs are lightweight and designed for comfort. Even if worn every day, the wig only needs to be hand-washed once a week.

Setting wigs aside

After chemotherapy ends, hair growth begins almost immediately. In a few months, a woman can stop wearing a wig. Most women are eager to get back to their own hair. "I've been told by my suppliers that the East Coast is very conservative," says Kilfoyle. "Women on the East Coast don't, as a rule, feel comfortable wearing wigs for fun or for change of pace, whereas in other parts of the countrythe West Coast, Texas, and Floridaeveryone is much more open to wearing wigs and changing colors and styles."

Kilfoyle realizes she may work with most clients for only one or two meetings. Nonetheless, she relishes the contact. "It's a very personal relationship, and they're trusting me to help them," says Kilfoyle. "I feel that at this stage of my life, it's rewarding for me to have a career where I can help someone who is in a bad time.

"It's a definite transformation for cancer patients," concludes Kilfoyle. "They go from feeling sick and having their hair fall out, back to looking like everyone else."

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito