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Q&A: Wellness Center stylist wants to provide relief for hospital patients, families

Jeanne McCoy, a cancer survivor, will provide free haircuts and salon services to hospital patients and their families in the new Blythe Brenden-Mann Foundation Wellness Center.
Jeanne McCoy (left), a cancer survivor, will offer free haircuts and other cosmetic services to hospital patients and their families as part of the new Blythe Brenden-Mann Foundation Wellness Center at University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital.

Cancer survivor Jeanne McCoy is all too familiar with the stress that patients and families can face during an extended hospital stay. After all, she experienced it firsthand during her battle against non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

That’s why McCoy decided to offer free haircuts and other cosmetic services to hospital patients and their families in the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital’s new Blythe Brenden-Mann Foundation Wellness Center.

McCoy is one of several stylists who have volunteered to support patients at the Wellness Center, which opened earlier this spring. She also served as a consultant for the hospital during the design and development of the Wellness Center. McCoy, who is affiliated with Intelligent Nutrients Salon, hopes she can alleviate some of the stress that comes with a hospital visit and help guide patients who are struggling to manage their outward appearance.

We talked with Jeanne about her background, why she chose to volunteer and why she will only be using non-synthetic, non-toxic products in her work.

Tell us about the salon. What are you going to offer patients and families?

We’re going to be offering both salon and spa services within the new Blythe Brenden-Mann Foundation Wellness Center at the hospital. It’s a really inviting space. I feel blessed to be able to offer my services here. A number of companies have donated professional-grade equipment and non-toxic products for us to use. We even have a special area where hospital patients and families can get manicures, facials and massages.

You’re a cancer survivor yourself. How has that impacted your work on the project?

I’m a non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivor, so I felt a connection to the project right away. I have plenty of personal experience staying in hospitals, and I know how long those days can be for patients. For me, volunteering at the Wellness Center seemed like a perfect fit. I was eager to get on board. I remember when my oncologist told me that I was going to lose my hair quickly due to the treatment that I had. At the time, I thought: “I don’t care, that’s the least of my worries. I just want to survive.” But when I actually started to lose my hair, the emotional impact finally hit me. I think my personal experience and expertise will help put patients at ease.

Why is it so important to be sensitive to the needs of cancer patients when providing these services?

Losing your hair during treatment is one of the clearest signs that your body is going through a traumatic experience. Your appearance really starts to change. Medications can make you really thin or really big. All of a sudden, you don’t even recognize yourself. I think it’s really important to have people around you who understand and can be compassionate. However, I plan to take a similar compassionate approach with all the patients and families I see at the Wellness Center—not just those being treated for cancer. Our services are available to patients with a variety of diagnoses and their family members.

Learn more about our new Blythe Brenden-Mann Foundation Wellness Center.

Some guidance is probably important, too.

Definitely. Cancer patients—and many hospital patients in general—are just overwhelmed. I think offering services that alleviate stress and that allow people to focus on their health is essential to what we’re doing. Having somebody help you with how you look is just one less thing cancer patients have to deal with. I wore a wig and a stocking cap just to feel normal during treatment. It was very traumatizing for me to see my appearance change so drastically.

You pay special attention to using chemical-free products—why is that?

After my chemotherapy treatment, I couldn’t work in my former salon because I couldn’t handle the hairsprays and the chemical environment any longer. I want to offer a space to other patients where they can feel comfortable, too. I really believe from my own illness that the ingredients matter. What you’re using on people—especially at a time when their bodies are already bombarded with medications—matters. We’ve been very strict that we provide only synthetic-free products.

What’s the one thing you want patients and families to understand about this volunteer-driven project?

I think the biggest thing people should know is they can come in and just be themselves, whether they’re having a good day or a bad day. As professional stylists, we can read each person and help them just fade away for a half hour. It’s one of the few times in the hospital where they can go through an experience and feel a real human connection and not think about their treatment. I really want people to be able to step out of their daily routine, if only for a little while. We will also be recruiting other licensed hair stylists and nail technicians to volunteer in the space, which will eventually allow us to serve a greater volume of people.