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Shop sells wigs and more for patients battling cancer

While getting her nails done one afternoon at a local day spa, Karen deVlaming learned the business next door, a wig shop for cancer patients, was foundering.

The Private Side wig shop had opened years earlier when Avantaggio Day Spa owner Lou Marchiafava couldn't find wigs for her daughter, who was battling Hodgkin's disease. So, Mrs. Marchiafava opened a wig shop next door to her spa.

When her daughter recovered and went on with her life, Mrs. Marchiafava turned her attention to the spa. The wig shop went into decline.

"I asked Lou what was happening with the shop and she said, "Why don't you buy it?' " Mrs. deVlaming said. "I had been working 28 years in the aerospace industry and wanted to do something else. I always thought it would be so neat to have a little shop."

Mrs. deVlaming quit her job and bought the business and its inventory with an initial investment of $40,000. She opened in April under the new name, Beautiful Transitions, at 940 Clearwater-Largo Road.

She expanded the inventory to include mastectomy prostheses and the specialized bras, bathing suits for women who have had mastectomies, bathing suits for hard to fit mature figures, as well as women's sportswear and dressy outfits.

Wigs remain a feature of the shop, costing from $100 to $300 for those in the store to $450 for custom-made pieces. Each wig is fitted, cut and styled in the shop.

"We advise women who know they are going to lose their hair during chemotherapy treatment to be fitted for a wig before they lose their hair so we can match it to their hair and style," Mrs. deVlaming said. "Then they can put it away until they need it. To many women, losing their hair is a trauma and it's important that they look the same." The shop also has sport hats with detachable hair and other styles of head coverings.

The bathing suits came from the former Cheri's Unique Boutique in the Tyrone area of St. Petersburg. That business, owned and operated 11 years by Cheri Staley-Wilson, also specialized in helping women cancer patients. Mrs. Staley-Wilson has had three bouts with cancer and started the business in 1990 after becoming frustrated with the lack of places to shop for clothing and other items for cancer survivors. Mrs. Staley-Wilson works two days in the Largo business.

Both Mrs. Staley-Wilson and Mrs. deVlaming are certified by the American Cancer Society to fit the breast prostheses. Insurance helps with the cost of the prostheses and bras, Mrs. deVlaming said. "Medicare will pay for a prosthesis and six bras a year. If a woman has had a double mastectomy, it covers two forms and the six bras."

Mrs. deVlaming also is an instructor in the American Cancer Society's "Look Good, Feel Better" seminars that teach cancer patients how to deal with changes in skin tone and hair loss.