TEANECK, N.J. — What was almost more devastating than learning that she had breast cancer to a Teaneck grandmother was discovering that she’d soon lose every strand of blonde hair that she'd spent a lifetime growing.
Instead of spending $5,000 at a wig store, Patty went to Lillian Lee, the owner of a Teaneck Road hair salon that bears her name.
“I walked in and said ‘Help me,'” recalled Patty, as Lee tucked a lock from her new shoulder-length, strawberry-blonde wig behind her ear so she could stencil on a new pair of eyebrows.
Patty is one of countless cancer patients who come to Lee wanting nothing more than to feel pretty again.In turn, she gives them free wigs and lots of love.
“'Not only is it horrible to know I have cancer, which is life threatening,'" Lee said, quoting one of her first clients. "'It’s going to take my breasts away, it’s going to take my whole femininity away.'
"How cruel is that?”
Lee originally set up shop in a Teaneck basement in 1992 to style wigs that some married Jewish women customarily wear to cover their real hair.
The former New York City stylist was collecting used and unwanted wigs in 1995 when she noticed many of her clients -- including an employee -- being diagnosed with cancer.
Lee brought a new wig to the hospital and watched her employee's spirits rise along with her vitals.
“I tell my clients I can’t fix them on the inside, but I can fix them on the outside — and that helps them on the inside too,” said Lee, who created the non-profit Do Wonders to obtain wigs for women and children undergoing chemotherapy.
Lee suffered a heart attack last month, but it didn't prevent her from coming in on her day off Saturday to transform Patty for a wedding that evening.
"Look at me, huh?" said Patty, grinning widely. She got up from her salon chair and went to the mirror for a closer look at her new eyebrows.
Lee smiled."My mission is complete," she said.