People of the U: Tiara Love
Published on Monday, April 18, 2022
By: Ruth Cummins, email@example.com
Tiara Love knows what it feels like to wear a wig, and she’s not talking about one that you buy just for fun or fashion.
Diagnosed with cancer in her early teens, Love watched as her hair fell out during treatment at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
As she battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma, “it didn’t really hit me until I started losing my hair,” said Love, who grew up in Louisville and now lives in Jackson.
“Losing your hair is different for kids than for adults,” she said. “The only people who saw me without my hair were my mom and my aunt. It was a big deal to me. I was a cheerleader, in band, in competitive dance. I was a long hair lover and used to doing my hair.”
She got a wig. “It replicated my natural hair, but it was very uncomfortable at first,” Love said. “When you lose your hair, your scalp is very, very sensitive. Wigs can be heavy.”
Fast forward the 15 years that Love has been in remission. Today, she helps women of all ages who are going through her experience as part of their cancer journey. Love is the Patient Resource Center manager at UMMC’s Cancer Center and Research Institute, and a big part of her job is providing information and education about different cancers, treatments and caregiver options.
And, she provides UMMC patients wigs and weaves, scarves and hats at no cost. “We also serve as a drop-off space for community groups, organizations and kind people that like to donate to our cancer patients,” she said.
“The patients are in the process of losing their hair, or have already lost their hair,” Love said. “Some come when they are first diagnosed and need information on what to do next. I know that it’s a lot to hear when you find out you have cancer. You need as much information as possible, and if I don’t have the answers, I’ll find whoever does.”
Their struggles remind her of her own.
“I was just a sophomore in high school, and I had a knot on my neck. We first thought it was mono, then cat scratch disease, then thyroid issues,” Love said. “We went to Batson (Children’s Hospital), and I thought it would be just another doctor visit.
“But they told my mom they were admitting me that night. My mom told me I had cancer, and that they were going to figure out what my treatment plan would be. My first thought was, ‘Whatever they have to do to beat it, let’s do it.’”
She knows from experience – and from talking to patients – that a woman’s hair “is a cloak. It’s part of your identity. Losing your hair is a process, but getting a wig is also a process. Once you get hair back on your head, it’s somewhat of a shock. But, you might have always wanted to be a blonde!”
Some patients she sees want a scarf instead of a wig, and “men ask about hats more than they ask about wigs. A lot of women don’t like wigs because they are hot, or itchy.
“And, some patients wear a wig not for themselves, but for the people around them. One woman told me that she went out without a wig on, and she scared a child.”
Those who come to her for a wig get education on what life will be like when their hair grows back. “People don’t know that when you lose your hair, it typically grows back very different,” Love said. “Straight hair grows back curly. My hair grew back thick and curly and jet black.
“I liked it better like it was before I lost it, but I was just happy to have hair.”
Love “is very familiar with the emotional and physical side effects of cancer,” said Gloria Guilty, the CCRI’s interim administrator. “Her work is very important due to the cancer care and educational tools the center offers.
“The center understands the journey in fighting cancer can be devastating,” Guilty said. “This is why it also offers emotional support. Sometimes patients, as well as family members, just need a place to go scream, sit in silence, pray and/or have a shoulder to cry on.
“Tiara has been that for many patients. She’s extremely compassionate and understanding of the journey.”
Love encourages patients not to lose hope, and to find joy in their lives.
“Your attitude can make or break you. If you go in and feel defeated, or have people around you who pity you, then it will make it a long, hard process,” Love said. “I tell people all the time that they can’t worry about what they don’t know yet. Don’t worry until you know for sure.”
“Tiara accepting the role as Patient Resource Center manager was a personal accomplishment,” Guilty said. “Her dream was to work with cancer patients directly as they go through cancer treatments. She often talks about how rewarding and fulfilling it is to see the tears on patients’ faces turn into smiles and laughter once they find that perfect wig, scarf or cap to wear.
“Many former patients, once in remission, donate gently worn wigs, scarves and caps to the center to aid others in their journey.”
For Love, working at the center is a mission and a chance to give back.
“The patient interaction brings me joy,” Love said. “This is like a full circle moment for me. Now, I can be on their side.”