A new space at Northeast Georgia Physicians Group Gynecologic Oncology Gainesville aims to ensure women with gynecological cancers undergo treatment looking and feeling their best.
Coined a survivor’s salon, The Pretty Place is a spa-themed room outfitted with wigs, headwraps, hats, jewelry and, through a partnership with the Georgia Institute of Cosmetology, classes on wig and scalp care, makeup tips and eyebrow draw-on services.
Spearheaded by the nonprofit Partnership for Gynecological Cancer Support in partnership with the Northeast Georgia Health System Foundation and NGPG Gynecologic Oncology, the room is designed for women who are uninsured, underinsured or whose coverage plans simply don’t allow for extraneous cancer support items.
To be eligible for the services, recipients must be in treatment for gynecological cancer — including endometrial, vulvar, cervical, ovarian and germ cell cancers — through the local health system, according to PGCS Founder and CEO Sue Sigmon-Nosach, and identified by NGPG Gynecologic Oncology staff.
For Sigmon-Nosach, a 20-year ovarian cancer survivor, the salon is a conduit for providing women with a sense of control over their diagnoses, along with easy access to resources, support and answers to pressing questions.
“It’s a pretty place for a woman to come in and pick whatever she needs … because a lot of times, the women that are diagnosed with gynecological cancers typically don’t know where or who to ask,” Sigmon-Nosach said. “Gynecological cancers don’t get a lot of press, for lack of a better term. If you don’t have any hair, (people tend to assume) you must have breast cancer, and that’s not entirely true.”
A newcomer to Hall County upon receiving her diagnosis, Sigmon-Nosach said if a resource like The Pretty Place had been available when her cancer journey began, she likely would have felt less alone and, by extension, more empowered.
“It’s bad enough to go someplace and get your head shaved. I had just moved to Gainesville when I was diagnosed; I didn’t really know anybody,” she said. “To be able to come into a room like Pretty Place and see what somebody has done for them, I think, is a tangible contribution that they feel has been made for them. Our motto all along has been, ‘So nobody takes the journey alone.’ Cancer patients refer to (their experience) as a journey, sometimes to hell and back — but it is a journey. (The Pretty Place) lets them know there’s somebody out there rooting for them.”
The salon is just another arm of PGCS, now a 10-year-old entity, joining a Kroger gift card program, hotel stays for patients traveling 100 miles or more for services at the clinic, utility assistance and a partnership with Riverside Pharmacy providing end-of-life medications not covered by insurance.
To date, the nonprofit has distributed more than $450,000 to nearly 1,500 area women undergoing gynecological cancer treatment.
“Nobody takes a class on how to have cancer,” Sigmon-Nosach said. “There are so many emotions going through (a patient’s mind upon diagnosis). ‘Am I going to walk out of here one day as a survivor?’ I believe you’re a survivor from the day you’re diagnosed.”
The survivors’ salon is also near and dear to the heart of Shelley Hannon, nurse practitioner at NGPG Gynecologic Oncology, who, as a survivor herself, knows the disarming side effects of cancer treatment first-hand.
Her hope for The Pretty Place, harking back to her initial vision and grant proposal for such a space, is to offer “place of refuge and pampering for women going through life-threatening diagnoses.”
“You can no longer hide behind a hairdo or makeup or perfectly shaped eyebrows when this disease targets you,” she said. “And most patients are dramatically underinsured — or uninsured — for these extraneous costs. Since both my husband and I are cancer survivors, I am especially sensitive to the financial devastation this can cause.”
For Hannon, The Pretty Place feels God-ordained.
“When I think about what this means to me, I just feel like my heart will explode,” she said. “I'm so grateful for everyone who helped make this a reality.”
Hannon has submitted a change grant to the NGHS Foundation for wigs and headwraps, which has passed the first level of approval, she said, with the foundation’s final decision anticipated by late April.
An official ribbon cutting and open house for The Pretty Place is slated for 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 30 at the facility, located at 1315 Jesse Jewell Parkway, Suite 110 in Gainesville.
For more information, visit supportgc.org or find The Partnership for Gynecologic Cancer Support on Facebook, or contact the organization directly via email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone, 678-897-1461.Donations to the organization and/or The Pretty Place can be made via PayPal by visiting supportgc.org/get-involved/#donate.