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Vicksburg steps up for cancer survivor

Mandy Miller (left), owner of Vicksburg’s Cutting Edge Salon, drops off a client’s hair donations to Denise James (right).

By Alex Lee

A diagnosis of stage four non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2018 was both frightening and devastating for Denise James.

She was forced to quit working and began a difficult series of chemo sessions to combat the disease. “Rob, my husband, proposed to me despite knowing of the diagnosis and the battle ahead,” Denise says, “and that along with the support of family and friends got me through.”

The treatments were effective against the cancer but took her hair and the stamina to return to work full time.
In 2020 the cancer returned. “I knew it was back, but there was no point in telling anyone until we knew for sure.” This time around chemo treatments were not effective, so T-cell therapy began.

The American Cancer Society describes T-cell therapy as, “a way to get immune cells called T cells (a type of white blood cell) to fight cancer by changing them in the lab so they can find and destroy cancer cells. CAR T-cell therapy is also sometimes talked about as a type of cell-based gene therapy, because it involves altering the genes inside T cells to help them attack the cancer.”

The treatments were effective but eliminated Denise’s hope of ever regrowing her own hair. Denise explains, “There was never a thought of not going through a second difficult fight, and when I did get down my husband pointed out that I beat it once, and I would do it again.”

When Sheryl Oswalt, owner of Vicksburg’s Dawg House, needed additional help at the store due to family health issues, Denise stepped up to help part time. Denise’s warm personality, her quick smile and her genuine desire to make people happy, leaves a big and very positive impression on customers.

Her engaging presence makes a lack of hair quite easy to overlook. It was somewhat of a surprise when Sheryl learned that a neighbor had donated hair to make a wig for Denise.

But Vicksburg stepped up big. Sheryl posted on social media about the situation and donations of both hair and money flowed in.

Denise says she would like a human hair wig. “I want something that belongs on the head of a human being. People seemed surprised that I wanted to do this, because I think sometimes those of us who have gone through something like this feel a need to always be ok, but sometimes we’re not quite as ok as we would lead you to believe.”

Denise believes that once the required amount of hair is collected it will take three to four months for the wig to arrive. Sheryl says, “Any addition hair collected will be donated to help others going through the same difficult situation.” Denise meanwhile is looking forward to wearing the wig to work, “I’ll get to reintroduce myself to all these wonderful people all over again, because no one will recognize me.”

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