COLUMBIA — When Susan Haines' sister was dying of cancer, she made Haines promise to help other women with the disease.
Haines couldn't say no.
Proof of a promise kept is on Tenth Street in a beauty salon called The Captain's Quarters. Displayed in the windows are wigs, carefully styled atop lifelike mannequin heads and adorned with hats and silk scarves. The wigs, hats and scarves are for cancer patients who have lost their hair from chemotherapy.
Haines opened The Captain's Quarters in 1977 with her husband, Ray Haines, but it wasn't until her sister was diagnosed with cancer in 1988 that she began catering to cancer patients.
Haines' sister lost her hair during aggressive radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Haines was passionately involved with her sister's treatment, from custom cutting her wig to making weekly donations of white blood platelets.
Since her sister's death, Haines has expanded services at The Captain’s Quarters for cancer patients. She also volunteers for the American Cancer Society's "Look Good ... Feel Better" program in Columbia, and she teaches the program to licensed cosmetologists.
While medical doctors deal with the internal complications of cancer, she tries to help with the external side effects. The effects of chemotherapy aren’t limited to hair loss, Haines said. Cancer patients sometimes experience their nails lifting off the nail bed, dry skin, dark puffy circles under their eyes or dark skin splotches.
It’s important for women going though chemotherapy to feel comfortable and confident because they are still expected to go to work and serve the roles of mother or wife, Haines said.
"Cosmetologists have the opportunity to be part of a client's inner circle," she said. "If you care about your clients, they become your friends."
Haines notices when her clients get their first gray hairs. She watches her customers have children. She cuts the hair of her clients' grandchildren. And so being there when a client is diagnosed with cancer falls right inside the job description.
"You are experiencing and seeing changes in your customers' lives," Haines said. "You never know if that little wart or the irritation around the hairline would be something more. When a client comes back and says, 'Thank you, yes, it was diagnosed as skin cancer,' it makes you feel good that you were paying close attention to that customer."
When Ellen Dent was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995, Haines had a wig for her.
"Going through cancer, it is always good to have an advocate that can give you stability," Dent said. "People build a network around them, and Susan was part of my real stable network of people who got me though it."
Wearing a wig was an important part of feeling as normal as possible as she went through such an abnormal time in her life.
"It wasn't much fun," Dent said. "I don't think you realize how much you like your hair until you don't have it."
Before the wig, Dent wore a bandana. But when she returned to her job at a bank, she had to look normal.
Going out in public for the first time in the wig was odd, Dent said. It's like wearing a hat, she said. It gets hot and she had to keep tabs on it because it moved around on her head.
But it contributed to a feeling of normalcy, not just for her but for the people around her.
"If I didn't wear the wig, they would have worried more about me," Dent said. "Maybe it's for the other people you do it sometimes — so they are not surprised or uncomfortable."
Elaine Grev, another customer at The Captain's Quarters, has had an appointment every week with Haines for the past 30 years. She already had been a customer at The Captain's Quarters for almost 28 years when she started to lose her hair to chemotherapy.
"I didn't want to end up with globs of hair on my pillow," Grev said. "So I went to Susan to have my head shaved and then started wearing wigs."
When she didn't have her own hair for Haines to cut, she still brought in her wigs for Haines to wash.
"When you go back to a place every week, you get to know somebody and they get to know you," Grev said. "You wind up being friends."
For Haines, the work is like an ongoing tribute to her sister.
"We did lose her," Haines said. "But we didn't lose the fight. We learned a lot from everything that she shared with us, from her fight, strife and determination."