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Building confidence in the boutique: Local businesses partner with new cancer institute

SALISBURY — The diagnosis was crushing for Dileika Wilson-Ballard. In the middle of attending graduate school at Catholic University, she was told that she had breast cancer.

As she began to battle the disease, going through rounds of chemotherapy treatment, Wilson-Ballard’s hair began to fall out. In an effort to gain authority over a situation that felt helpless, she went to buy her first wig.

“It was actually the first thing I did,” Wilson-Ballard said. “I cut my hair all the way down and I went looking for a wig because it was something that I’d have some control over.”

Wilson-Ballard decided to visit a shop that’d been recommended by her oncologist. She entered the store looking for reassurance. She left devastated.

“I left crying, without a wig, in tears because they were just so impersonal,” Wilson-Ballard said.

Eventually, she did have a wig-fitting experience that was bearable, but she never forgot the first time she went into a wig shop.

Although she sporadically wore wigs after beating cancer, Wilson-Ballard’s life moved on. She was working in human resources at a data analytics company in Winston-Salem several years laster when she received a call from her mom. Marva Wilson had an unusual proposition for her daughter.

“My mom called me in my office one day and said ‘Dileika, what do you think about owning a wig store?’” Wilson-Ballard said.

Wilson had worn wigs throughout her life and had been a regular customer of OK Wigs in downtown Salisbury. When the owners of OK Wigs decided to retire, they approached Wilson about buying the store.

What happened next was a blur.

“I was working at a Fortune 500 company in Winston-Salem in the HR department, which is what I went to school for and got my graduate degree and was happy in my career,” Wilson-Ballard said. “We just stepped out on faith. It happened really fast. It happened faster than logically should have happened.”

They bought the wig shop. Soon, OK Wigs became Timeless Wigs and Marvelous Things.

A few years into her new life as a wig shop owner, Wilson-Ballard was given another proposition. But this time, the proposition was exactly what she was looking for.

“One day, a lady popped in and said she wanted to speak with us about partnering with the cancer center,” Wilson-Ballard said. “I was like ‘Thank you, Lord.’”

That lady was Nancy Linn, the current president of the Novant Health Medical Center Auxiliary. The auxiliary has always been a major benefactor of healthcare efforts in the Salisbury community. That’s remained true to this day.

Linn was tasked with finding local business owners to provide support and resources for the Look Good, Feel Good Hope Boutique that would be a part of Novant Health’s Wallace Cancer Institute. The boutique is designed to be a place where patients can go to regain confidence lost during cancer treatment.

As the new facility was being constructed, Nancy Linn was building a network of local business owners who could help patients raise their self esteem.

Knowing that Wilson-Ballard had her own battle with cancer, Linn thought she would be the perfect person to help others through their journey. For Wilson-Ballard, it was a chance to give people the experience she didn’t receive when she stepped into that first wig shop.

“I said ‘Lord, I hear you letting me know that this is to make sure that no one is going to have the experience that I’ll have,’” Wilson-Ballard said. “We’re just thankful to be able to serve in this capacity.”

Wilson-Ballard isn’t the only local business owner who has battled cancer. Tonyan Schofield, the owner of Tonyan Grace boutique, fought her own bout with breast cancer. Schofield then became a certified mastectomy fitter and bra fitting specialist to help others who were in the same position she was in.

Wilson-Ballard approached Schofield about being a part of the Look Good, Feel Good Hope Boutique.

“When she first came to me with it, I said ‘Really? This is something I’ve been waiting to do for years,'” Schofield said.

The chance to provide cancer patients with a renewed sense of self-esteem is something Schofield relishes.

“It can be very shameful because, as women, we look forward to having breasts and things of that nature, and losing that can cause your self esteem to go very low,” Schofield said. “We’re going to build that back up.”

After breaking ground in 2019, the Wallace Cancer Institute opened last week. Although the boutique isn’t allowed to open yet under phase two of Gov. Roy Cooper’s Coronavirus order, Schofield and Wilson-Ballard have already seen customers who have been referred to them by the Cancer Institute. 

Creating a network through which cancer survivors can help cancer patients is something that Rick Parker, the executive director of the Rowan Medical Center Foundation, set out to do from the moment construction was underway on the Wallace Cancer Institute.

“In getting to know people in our community, I was looking for individuals who had a story to tell,” Parker said. The reason they were in business was something more powerful than just making money. We wanted people who were committed to the community.”

Eventually, Wilson-Ballard and Schofield will start serving patients in the boutique. That’s a day Sandy Morrison, the manager of the new boutique, looks forward to.

“We’re excited to support these women,” Morrison, herself a cancer survivor, said. “We know what they’re going through and we can tell them that they’re going to get through it.”

Along with carrying a selection of jewelry and clothing, The Look Good, Feel Good Hope Boutique features a dressing room in which patients can be fitted for a prosthetic or a new wig.

For more information on the boutique or the Wallace Cancer Institute, visit novanthealth.org.

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