Virtua Health treats approximately 3,000 cancer patients each year, and the majority of those receiving chemotherapy must face the prospect of losing their hair.
To make the process a little easier, celebrity hair stylist Frank Rizzieri is putting a hair boutique inside Virtua’s new cancer center in Moorestown, under the same roof that patients will receive their treatments. His team of stylists will fit them for their own wig, teach them to style it and shave their head before their hair starts to fall out — all for free.
“[Cancer patients] go through fear, sadness. They just don’t know what they’re gonna look like,” Rizzieri said. “There’s a lot of emotion. We want to make them feel good and say, ‘you know, the one thing you don’t have to worry about is the way you’re gonna look. We’ll make you look good. Put all your energy into getting better.’”
Rizzieri has been in the hair care business all his life. His grandfather owned a beauty school in Camden that opened in 1924, and during summers his mother would bring him to the school every day in lieu of child care. His father owned a salon as well, and there was never really a time Rizzieri wasn’t involved in the family business.
Since becoming a partner in a salon with his dad in 1986, Rizzieri has traveled the world to open salons, schools and medical spas. He’s developed hair tools and hair care products, and his client book boasts years’ worth of appointments from celebrities like Kate Bosworth and Elle McPherson.
His partnership with Virtua is something a little different, though. While he estimates the Rizzieri hair care empire is worth about $5 million, this isn’t a moneymaking venture. It is done entirely through charity.
“It started when I became part of the Virtua Foundation board. I thought, I have to do something that’s meaningful because I’m not really a board person,” he said. “Women that are going through cancer, especially losing their hair, are pretty near and dear to my heart because I’ve seen this through the years at our salons and dealt with a lot of women who have lost their hair.
“[The Virtua Foundation] told me this cancer center was going to be built and I said ‘oh, let’s do a women’s boutique right inside.’ Shave their head, get them a wig, make them feel comfortable and good. I kind of bit off more than I could chew — I didn’t realize how to raise a million dollars, but we’re doing it.”
According to its Chief Strategy Officer Stephanie Fendrick, Virtua Health created the new cancer center with patient-specific needs in mind.
“We really wanted to make it a one-stop location. Cancer services are [currently] located throughout Virtua Memorial Hospital so you’re navigating different places in a more traditional hospital setting,” Fendrick said. “We were looking at designing an experience that would support patients while they were undergoing treatment for cancer and having all those services under one roof.”
The center will begin treating patients Nov. 5. The Rizzieri Cancer Center Hair Boutique will take its first client that day as well. There, patients will have a more intimate opportunity to share this often challenging moment with their friends and family than a salon would afford them.
“We don’t want them to go to a salon. In salons, everyone’s getting their hair done, and they’re feeling really great about themselves,” Rizzieri said. “This is private. You can come with your family. It’s emotional, and people want their support team with them. The salon is just not the right place for that.”
As soon as a patient gets into Virtua’s system, she will be able to be referred to the boutique. This gives the Rizzieri professionals the chance to create a relationship and provide a consultation before the hair loss happens. After the patient is fitted for a wig, it should be ready in a matter of days.
“When they shave their head for the first time and see all their hair hit the ground, I think it’s pretty emotional for everybody,” he said. “When you put a wig on, they just have to get comfortable. It takes a little bit. You have to get used to how it feels. Once you get past it, it starts to become no big deal, like putting on your makeup.”
The wigs are purchased at cost by the Virtua Foundation from a vendor in California with whom Rizzieri has a long-standing relationship. To fund the wigs and build-out of the salon, Rizzieri Salon & Spa has hosted a cocktail reception for the last two years and developed a Treatments for Charity initiative where for a month, five dollars from any treatment goes directly toward the Rizzieri Cancer Center Hair Boutique.
Nationwide, Rizzieri employs about 250 people. From his three New Jersey locations in Moorestown, Voorhees and Washington Township, 30 of the workers will volunteer their time to staff the boutique from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. three days a week.
“Everybody that works by Rizzieri has been touched by people who have cancer,” Rizzieri said, making it an easy initiative for staff to get behind.
Beyond its emotional and physical toll, cancer patients bear a heavy financial burden. The Rizzieri Cancer Center Hair Boutique gives the opportunity for one less cost, one less out-of-the-way appointment and one less worry: “How do I look?”