This time last year, Janet Daigle’s life changed with a Stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis, marking the second time she would face a battle with the disease. Almost immediately, she began treatment with a team of experts, led by William Varnado, M.D., medical oncologist. The two quickly formed a very close bond.
“Dr. Varnado, particularly, was very optimistic,” Janet said. “This is a wonderful doctor. He was very caring. He was giving us some bad news, but he did it in a way that we felt calm and we felt he was going to help us the whole way. And he did.”
That patient-doctor relationship is a key component of any treatment plan at the Cancer Center. Beyond providing the most advanced cancer care in the region, Mary Bird Perkins team members make it their goal to get to know their patients on a personal level – something that provides comfort during what can be a difficult journey.
“We like to give our patients the most support they will need possible to get through their journey,” Dr. Varnado said. “We focus on the unique characteristics of the patient and also the unique characteristics of the cancer. We cater to each individual patient and the patient is more than just their cancer.”
That support did not end after Janet successfully finished treatment. Beyond treatment, she went to Dr. Varnado for help in addressing a side effect of her chemotherapy.
“On my first after-care appointment with Dr. Varnado, my hair had started to return but it was coming in completely different,” Janet recalled. “I was asking him, ‘what do I do with this?’”
To that end, Dr. Varnado knew just what he could offer Janet. Recently, an initiative launched that began when he contemplated how the Cancer Center could support patients with additional tools to boost their image and self-confidence after hair loss. Under his direction, Mary Bird Perkins enlisted the help of Rachel Eggie Gibbs, owner of Baton Rouge’s EGGIE salon studio, to provide patients with a post-chemotherapy haircut and styling experiencing. The service helps teach patients the best techniques and options for styling and working with hair that may be different following treatment.
“I told [Rachel] the story of my patient and what I thought we could do better,” Dr. Varnado said. “I think their journey with chemotherapy and cancer in general doesn’t end whenever their treatment ends. It’s the emotional after-burden and support that comes after that. A big part of that is growing their hair back.”
Rachel was immediately on board with this partnership.
“Cancer is such a battle for these men and women, and as hair stylists, we can help with hair,” Rachel said. “We can just take that worry away from them so they don’t even have to think twice about it.”
Janet was one of the first patients Dr. Varnado recommended for the post-chemo experience. Rachel personally welcomed her to the studio and provided the haircut and styling appointment herself. It provided Janet with the understanding and confidence to handle her returning hair – something that wasn’t there before. Plus, she loved her new look!
“After the haircut, I think I had a huge smile because I felt like, ‘oh ok, this actually looks good, I can do something with this,’” Janet said. “It was very uplifting.”
For Rachel, she also finds the partnership rewarding. Knowing something as simple as a hair appointment can change a person’s outlook and self-esteem. For her salon, they feel it’s the least they can do.
“They can come to us as a resource for one thing,” Rachel said. “For some it’s little, for others it’s a huge thing. It affects their identity, it affects their self-confidence. It’s more than just a haircut.”