Now in remission, Ottawa hair stylist offering wig service to other chemo patients
'I am a bit of an expert in both cancer and hair now,' says Kristen Atkinson
When Kristen Atkinson was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in January 2019, she underwent six months of chemotherapy. One of the most challenging side-effects, she says, was losing her long blond hair.
"Once your hair falls out and your eyebrows fall out and your eyelashes fall out, there's no more running from the fact that you're quite sick," Atkinson told CBC's Ottawa Morning. "You look at yourself [in the mirror] and you look like a stranger."
The 38-year-old is now in remission, but she hasn't forgotten what it felt like to lose her hair.
"Hair is so much a part of my identity. I've been a hair stylist for 20 years," said Atkinson, who owns and operates Mint Hair Studio in Ottawa's Hintonburg neighbourhood.
Nor has she forgotten how difficult it was to find a suitable wig.
"There aren't that many options. I wasn't super impressed with the choices or the styles," said Atkinson.
And so the idea for ApartMint was born. It's a small and very private satellite salon where Atkinson will act as a self-described "cancer chemo concierge" for others experiencing hair loss.
"It's what I know, it's what I do, and I am a bit of an expert in both cancer and hair now," she said.
In addition to regular cuts and head shaves, Atkinson will offer wig consultations and fittings. Clients will be able to purchase or rent wigs, and drop them off for cleaning and styling.
She's also planning a recycling option so people who no longer need their wigs can donate them to others. Atkinson will wash, recondition and restyle the hairpieces, then offer them at a discounted price to people who may be struggling financially.
Atkinson's said her end goal is to help cancer patients "feel better in a situation that doesn't feel very good." A big part of that is creating a space where clients can open up about what they're going through with someone who's been down the same road.
"If they want to talk about it and have a cry and be upset about it, they can, because I get it," she said. "Or if they don't want to talk about it at all because they're exhausted from it … that's OK, too."
The small salon, formerly The Brooke Barbershop at 7 Sherbrooke Ave., will also provide a safer space where Atkinson, who is now immunocompromised, can serve her other clients while her staff carries on at Mint Hair Studio, 130 metres away on Wellington Street W.
ApartMint was supposed to open Jan. 6, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, it will open until later this month, or whenever the provincial lockdown is lifted.
With files from CBC's Ottawa Morning