Published: October 2021
We are happy to present Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Spotlight Series, where we feature one of our dedicated physicians, scientists, nurses, and other important staff members so you can get to know the talented multi-disciplinary team serving our community.
Meet Tangela Hillery, BSW, concierge coordinator for Cancer Support Services. Sylvester’s cancer support services team places emphasis on supporting the ongoing physical and emotional taxation that cancer survivors experience during and after their treatment. Hair loss is a particularly difficult side effect, and the wig program empowers patients (both male and female) by encouraging a positive self-image in the face of this difficult life circumstance. Tangela Hillery runs the program located at Sylvester’s Cancer Resource Room.
What brought you to Sylvester?
I came to work for Sylvester because of its highly regarded reputation in the community. I am a native of Miami, and you have to love the "U!”
What do you enjoy most about your role at Sylvester?
As concierge coordinator, I love being able to work closely with the patients every day. I naturally enjoy being of service and I have the pleasure of helping patients look good and feel better about what they face in the mirror during and after treatment. Chemotherapy and radiation treatment causes hair loss and thinning. I fit each patient with a complimentary wig and educate them on the basics of hair loss while in treatment to help create a positive self-image. It is so rewarding to see their smiles and confidence after a wig-fitting session. The transformations are absolutely amazing!
Why did you choose this specific area of focus?
Well, this area of focus chose me! It landed in my lap. Initially, this was a small part of my job. I was the backup person that would open the studio whenever a patient would schedule an appointment for a wig fitting. We didn't have a huge or varied selection at the time, so we didn’t fit many patients with wigs. In 2017, we partnered with EBeauty, a non-profit organization that provides free wigs to cancer patients, to pilot the first wig program at Sylvester. EBeauty donated 250 wigs to our cancer center, and I dedicated my time to expand the program by taking the wigs to our satellite locations in Deerfield Beach, Plantation and at Lennar Foundation Medical Center. Since then, we have provided more than 300 beautiful women (and some men) with wigs each year. We have turbans, scarves and hats available as well.
What developments are you most excited about?
When COVID-19 hit, we were forced to shut down our Cancer Resource Room. Patients were calling because they were still in treatment, and in need of the service. I had to do something, so I created virtual wig consultations and fittings via Zoom. The patients would choose a wig they liked, and I would send it to the Sylvester satellite location to arrive on the day of their appointments. This has worked wonderfully and is a service we will continue to offer. I'm also most excited about some recent interest in our program from individual donors, which will allow us to offer even more of our patients brand new wigs! Earlier this year, a generous gift from Alice Klein, enabled us to purchase 85 new wigs for the Cancer Resource Room. This month, Pubbelly Sushi is commemorating breast cancer awareness month with a “Drink Pink” fundraising campaign benefitting our program! It is very exciting to have these wonderful partnerships.
How does philanthropy make a difference?
Sylvester would not be able to help the hundreds of patients without the kindness of others and their valuable philanthropic support. The generous donations help us meet an important need for our patients — a need that helps to restore their self-image with no barriers. After their fittings, patients tell me “I feel normal, more like myself and can go out in public with confidence now.” This is what it’s all about.