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Senior center hosts life after cancer program

One thing often leads to another .... It was two years ago that Vearies Lavender decided to collect wigs for cancer patients, who lost their hair during chemotherapy treatments.

Lavender, of Clayton County, said her interest in the cause was peeked after an encounter with a woman and her daughter, who were campaigning for wigs during an event Lavender attended.

From that encounter, Lavender became involved with the Life After Cancer Foundation, an organization that promotes breast cancer awareness and support services to women who are fighting the disease.

Then, recently, Lavender and Elaine Jackson –– the health and wellness coordinator for the Clayton County Senior Services Department –– put together a presentation program, to show off all of the wigs donated various organizations and community members to the Life After Cancer Foundation. They called the program, the "Wig Initiative."

It was held last week at the Frank Bailey Senior Center in Riverdale, and a room full of women –– and men –– who have survived cancer, as well as supporters, packed the event for a joyful celebration.

The room's decor was pink-and-white, signature colors for breast cancer patients. The melodic voices of the Frank Bailey Senior Choir permeated the room, to welcome guests. Many survivors shared their personal stories with those in attendance.

More music resonated in the background, as people ate and socialized, until one guest encouraged others to gather on the dance floor for the "Wobble," the newest version of the Electric Slide.

This year, Jackson said, the initiative was able to collect 174 wigs. She added that 2-Smooth Line Dancers, a line dancing group in Clayton County, donated the most wigs, to the foundation. Brenda McCloud, one of the members of the dance group, said her group collected and donated 40 wigs.

But, back to Lavender. She said, after she discovered a lump in her own breast some time back, she needed something to do to keep her mind occupied and off her condition. That's when she became a field representative for the Life After Cancer Foundation, and began hitting the streets of Clayton and surrounding counties to collect "new" or "gently used" wigs.

"I'd go around campaigning everywhere," said Lavender. "I just wanted to help other people."

Jackson said she met Lavender last year when Lavender contacted the Clayton County Senior Services Department to solicit wigs for the foundation. "We donated wigs to her, and that's when she told me about what she was doing with the foundation," Jackson said, "so, we took it on as a project."

Jackson said her primary motivation for taking on this project was personal. "I have a sister who is a breast cancer survivor, and when I heard about what she [Lavender] was doing, I knew this was something we needed to do."

Another motivation, she said, was because she knew her department has a lot of breast cancer survivors in its group of seniors.

Lavender said that, once the wigs are collected, they are then donated to the Cancer Association of Georgia. Jackson added that the initiative will be collecting wigs year around, now, and those who are interested in donating, can contact the Clayton County Senior Services Department, in Jonesboro, at (770) 477-3352.

Lavender said people can also e-mail her, at evlave@hotmail.com, to donate wigs.

"I think it's so important to collect these wigs," said Jackson. "Many women, who are going through chemo, cannot afford to buy a wig. This is devastating for a woman, and being able to put a wig on one person's head at a time is well worth it," she said. "Our goal for next year is to collect 500 wigs."