How Operation BeYoutiful restores confidence — and hope — to women with medically related hair loss – Daily American Online

Debbie Adams has known Andi Palmar for several years. But she didn’t know about Operation BeYoutiful — the nonprofit organization started in 2014 by Palmar’s daughter, Lauren — until Adams was diagnosed with breast cancer in July of 2020.
“I started treatment in August (and) I immediately lost my hair. It started falling out within seven days,” she said. “I know Andi from my workplace (Debbie works in a restaurant), and she approached me about Operation BeYoutiful.
“So I went and got fitted for my wig — and I felt like a whole new person.”
Good news:How brachytherapy offered at Conemaugh can reduce breast cancer treatment time
Promoted:Smith — a native of Fairhope and graduate of Berlin — set to lead Conemaugh hospital
Boos and Brews:How to participate in the autumn edition of the Laurel Highlands Pour Tour
Now Adams tells anyone she can about Operation BeYoutiful. One year after her diagnosis, her breast cancer is in remission, and her hair — which was previously brown and straight — has grown back white and wavy.
“The services she offers through Operation BeYoutiful … they do build your self-esteem and make you feel restored and look past your illness,” Adams said.
The goal of Operation BeYoutiful, Palmar said, is to offer hope, confidence and a high-quality wig at no cost to girls and women in and around Somerset and Cambria counties who are losing their hair as a result of cancer treatments or from another medical condition. There are no age or income requirements, and the wigs are paid for by Operation BeYoutiful in partnership with NuHart Hair salon in Johnstown.
In July, Operation BeYoutiful began a second partnership with Lush Salon and Spa in Windber to give these women some TLC for their face, hands and feet as well.
The “Relax and Restore” spa treatment offers each woman in the Operation BeYoutiful program her choice of a facial, a scalp treatment, a manicure or a pedicure, along with an a la carte option for an eye, lip or hand treatment — all at no cost.
In addition, Tracy Todorich, owner of Lush Salon and Spa, has offered to do each woman’s makeup for her “reveal” — the day she puts on her wig for the first time.
“I’ve been wanting to expand our services a little bit more,” Palmar said. “What Operation BeYoutiful is all about is creating an environment for our recipients to feel good and look good.
“I’m always trying to find ways to add something to the program to give as much as I can and give back a little bit more. I wouldn’t be able to do as much if Tracy (Todorich) and Nina (Miller, owner of NuHart Hair) didn’t give Operation BeYoutiful assistance as well. I’m not footing the bill at 100% because of their generosity. It’s a great partnership.”
Todorich said the “Relax and Restore” spa services are customized to the woman’s medical and personal needs. Each woman is given a “goodie bag” of locally made skin care products to take home when her spa day is over.
“When someone calls to schedule their appointment, our aesthetician will reach out to them and do a consultation over the phone, just to make sure all the products that we’re using are based on that participant’s individual needs,” Todorich said. “She gets their medical history to find out how long it’s been since (their last medical) treatment and to make sure that we’re using everything tailored for each participant.
“We feel very honored and blessed that Andi invited us to be part of this because we love making women feel good — and this is even 1,000 times better … to help a woman that’s been through this horrible ordeal, an illness to begin with, and then to lose their hair on top of that. It’s great to be part of making them feel beautiful and to gain that self-esteem and confidence that every woman deserves to have.”
Palmar said that many of the women the organization supports — she calls them “Operation BeYoutiful Angels” — are cancer patients receiving treatment. Others have another medical condition or are taking medication that causes thinning hair or hair loss.
“As a society, we look at men who are bald and we don’t think anything about it,” she said. “We have no clue what’s going on in their lives and the last thing we think is that they’re sick. But if you see a woman without her hair, or with a headscarf on, you immediately think ‘What’s wrong with her?’ and the first thing you think is, ‘She has cancer.’ It could be a plethora of things, but I think that’s where we are as a society.
“Women feel uncomfortable and insecure, knowing that people are staring at them and talking about them or wondering what’s going on with them. It makes you feel really self-conscious and insecure. It doesn’t matter how secure you are with yourself as a woman — when these things happen, it affects you in a whole lot of ways.”
Whether she’s 14 or 41, Palmar said, a woman who is losing her hair because of a medical condition wants to look in the mirror and see herself as a normal person rather than be defined by her illness.
But buying a wig — or even spending money on a facial or a manicure — is an extra expense that many women cannot justify when medical bills and other living expenses take priority.
“We try to give them back that feeling of normalcy,” Palmar said. “That’s what they want. They look at themselves in the mirror with their beautiful head of hair and it makes them remember what they used to look like before they got sick. From what women have told us during the time we’ve been doing our program, that’s really what it’s all about. I’ve had women tell me the worst part of having cancer was losing their hair – and now that they have a beautiful wig, they’re not scared.
“We represent beauty and confidence and inspiration and hope — all of those things. That’s what we want. We want to make sure they have that when they put this wig on.”
It’s also part of their mission to get a woman in for her wig consultation before her hair loss becomes noticeable, Palmar said.
“We try to get with our girls before they lose their hair so they can easily transition (to a wig) and no one would know,” she said. “When they first start going through treatment, we can usually get their wig in prior to their hair starting to fall out.
“We’re able to do that for women if they find out about us right when they’re diagnosed. We will get their consultation done and have everything ready to go — and once they start treatment, we order their wig and then get them fitted and educated.”
Adams said that was true in her case.
“My wig was so perfect that a lot of people did not know (it was a wig),” she said. “There were a lot of people that didn’t have a clue because the wig was so perfect — and they are fantastic quality. Literally, I would wash it in the sink and hang it on my wig head to dry and that was it.”
She’s also the first of Operation BeYoutiful’s participants to try the “Relax and Restore” spa service offered by Lush Salon and Spa.
“As good as it makes you feel, it’s worth (making) the time — and the level of confidence it gives you is unbelievable,” Adams said.
“When I had my facial, I felt fantastic. My skin was actually glowing. That was the first time in like a year that I felt that awesome.”
Operation BeYoutiful has so far helped almost 50 women and girls in 2021, more than double the 23 they were able to assist last year.
“What’s happening is our word is getting out and more people are learning about us,” Palmar said. “I talk to everybody, I tell everybody — and the greatest thing that’s happening now is that our recipients are referring other people.
“Then they refer them to us, which to me is the ultimate compliment because they are happy and pleased with how they felt and they want to pass that on. It’s almost like they’re paying it forward by telling someone about us.”
More information about Operation BeYoutiful — including an online application form — is available at their website,  Anyone who wants to give a financial donation can do that at the website as well. The fund is managed by the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies.
In addition, tickets go on sale Oct. 20 for Operation BeYoutiful’s annual Holiday Haul raffle, its main fundraiser of the year.
The holiday-themed raffle gives donors two chances each day, from Dec. 12 to Dec. 23, to win one of 12 prizes valued between $350 and $2,200. Tickets can be purchased at the Memorial Highway Chevrolet dealerships in Windber and Somerset, at Lush Salon and Spa in Windber, or at
“We have such incredibly giving people in this community,” Palmar said. “For Tracy (Todorich) to open up her salon and be as generous as she is with Operation BeYoutiful, to be able to provide these services, I can’t even quantify it. What she does, what Nina (Miller, from NuHart Hair) does, these two women are literally angels to be there and assist us in our mission of doing what we do for these women.
“We’re using local small businesses and just trying to keep all of our money and our program right here, locally — which is why we’ll never expand, because I feel it’s so important (to stay local). I think that allows us to have the personal touch, too. I would rather stay really small and personal than to get too big and lose that personal touch.”


Book an appointment