Nestled on the second floor of the Henry Ford Medical Center - Columbus in Novi, Marlene Rosenberg can be found in her “salon,” where she works her magic.
In just 30 minutes she can make someone feel beautiful again.
“All my life I loved makeovers,” said Rosenberg, founder of Marlene’s Wigs with Love. “To me, when a woman comes in, I get to make her over, and that’s the greatest gift I can do. To make them feel beautiful even though they're going through something as hideous as cancer. I feel honored.”
For nearly 10 years, the Bloomfield Hills resident has helped women with cancer by providing, and styling, wigs to help them cope with the hair loss that comes from chemotherapy and radiation.
It all started after her best girlfriend – whose hair Rosenberg had done for years – was diagnosed with cancer and asked Rosenberg to go to the wig shop with her. Rosenberg had been a hair colorist and hairdresser for over 20 years before tendonitis caused her to retire. She had been doing hair long before that though, starting when she was 11 at a country club. Needless to say, Rosenberg knows hair.
After that trip to the wig shop, a neighbor got cancer and asked Rosenberg, as a hairdresser, to accompany her to the wig store. Then her sister-in-law’s best friend got cancer, and before she knew it she could envision this becoming something bigger.
“I just saw a calling,” Rosenberg said. “I saw that people needed one-on-one personal attention and they needed to feel good about themselves.”
And Marlene’s Wigs with Love program was born. Her father donated money to the Henry Ford Medical Center in West Bloomfield, which helped kickstart her program in 2008. She was given a room and funded it herself for a year-and-a-half before becoming a fund at Henry Ford. Now it’s fully-funded by donations from patients, family, friends, and community members.
Each woman leaves Rosenberg’s room with new found self-confidence and a free wig. They also get a turban, headstand, hair brush, shampoo, and an eyebrow kit, if needed. All cancer patients are welcome to be fitted for a wig regardless of their ability to pay. All that’s asked is they pass it forward by giving back to the fund.
So far, Rosenberg has helped thousands of women – she estimates over 2,000 – each with a story as unique as the wig they select.
There was even one woman who came from out-of-state with her husband and two daughters.
“I remember getting her this wig and putting it on her, and her husband started crying, and he said, ‘My wife is back,’” Rosenberg said. “The daughters were bawling, I started crying. It was one of the most beautiful moments. It was a really great day.”
Getting days like that makes Rosenberg feel like a million dollars.
When asked about the future for Marlene’s Wigs with Love, Rosenberg mentions that they might expand, with a second location possibly being added to the brand new cancer center that the Henry Ford Health System is building in Detroit.
As amazing, and rewarding, as it all is, Rosenberg hopes one day her services won’t be needed any more.
“Let’s hope that they find a cure (for cancer) but if not, I’ll be continuing until I can’t do it anymore,” she said.
Photo: Laurie Tennent