By Erin Goss / Photos by Kristina Yamamoto
“My first haircuts were on my brother and sister,” she says. “I shaved my brother’s head one time, and he wouldn’t go to school the next day. He wore a cap after that.”
Despite her first client/victim’s experience, Joyce went on to major in Theater Arts at Southern Illinois University, and then honed her skills over a two-decade career devoted to the art of wig making, cutting and styling. But it wasn’t until years later, as a result of what she describes as “one of the greatest blessings of my life,” that she could truly relate to her brother’s embarrassment.
“I got colon cancer,” she says.
As a result of chemotherapy, Joyce lost her hair. To ease the pain associated with baldness, she fashioned a new coif for herself.
“The benefit of wearing a wig is making other people comfortable,” she says. “What you see in other people’s eyes is what you relate back to yourself. I didn’t want people to see me as dying.”
Once in remission, Joyce felt compelled to help others in her position. She opened a wig salon, Wigs by Patti’s Pearls, to help patients who can’t afford wigs - and she did it all out of her home.
“It’s the whole first floor,” she says. “I’ve got over 200 wigs here, but the best part is that the place is private. If you want to cry, I will cry with you.”
For those who can afford them, Joyce charges for her wigs. For those in need - the military and especially children - her tresses are free.
Since opening her salon, Joyce has styled and donated more than 150 wigs, each costing $200 to $250 for materials alone. And for the past six years, she’s been the official wig specialist for Rady Children’s Hospital (rchsd.org) in Kearny Mesa, where she outfits cancer survivors.
“With the young ones, I say, ‘We are going to play beauty shop.’ They want to have hair and look like the other kids. I’ve been there and done that, and I can take my wig off and they see me bald and there’s an instant rapport.”
Eighteen-year-old Amanda Barvinchak, who lost her hair during treatments for bone cancer, is one of the patients that accepted a wig from Joyce.
“She made us so comfortable,” says Amanda’s mother, Kim. “As Patti shaved her, she kissed her head and told her that it was going to be okay. At first we were apprehensive, but she made Amanda feel like a million bucks.”
In addition to the wigs she creates, Joyce launched the Angel’s Fund, which enables people to donate wigs, hats and money to help patients outside of Rady.
“It’s an amazing thing to see people receive, and for you to receive because you’ve given that day,” she says.
Purchase wigs or donate to Patti Joyce’s Angel Fund at wigsbypattispearls.com.