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Silver Spring Woman Fights Cancer with Wig, Hat Donations.

By Kara Rose, Staff Writer

Photo from Susie Sheridan-Costantino. Clockwise from left: Silver Spring resident Takounakis-Zarou with her Team Liza Crew: Linda Poole-Birch of Walkersville, Christina Kokkinakos-Poole of Frederick, Susie Sheridan-Costantino of Mt. Airy and Joann Johnson-Valainis of Walkersville.

Last June, Liza Takounakis-Zarou was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer.

Now, after a double mastectomy and months of intense chemotherapy and radiation treatments, she’s fighting back against cancer with Liza’s Lids — a nonprofit foundation that provides FREE wigs, hats, prostheses, bandannas and scarves to women experiencing hair loss and other side effects of cancer.

"I don’t believe that because you’re poor, or you don’t have the ability to pay, that you should have to walk around with an ugly wig or an ugly scarf," Takounakis, 44, said.

Debra Otani of Derwood is a nurse and cancer navigator at MedStar Montgomery Medical Center in Olney. Otani, who helps organize a monthly cancer support group for local women diagnosed with breast cancer, said she was Takounakis’ navigator who helped her during her cancer treatment. Otani’s Look Good Feel Better Program and her cancer support group was the first to partner with Takounakis when she started her foundation.

Since then, Takounakis, of Silver Spring, said she has reached out to nine different locations since she began in May 2012. "Liza said early on that she wanted to make sure every woman anticipating hair loss would have a large choice … that complimented their best features,"

Debbie Otani (Nurse Navigator) said, adding that not all wigs and scarves are the right fit for all women. "If you could have all of those resources available to you in a large choice, it gives you a real sense of being able to be prepared for that part of your treatment as well."

Self-proclaimed cancer Champion Pamela Hughes said she was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1990. "So quick after her diagnosis to want to jump back in there — that’s a way of fighting to me," Hughes said. "Telling the cancer ‘I’m not going to allow you to impact my life in a negative way, I’m gonna do something to show that I’m going to beat you.’"

While Liza Takounakis manages most of the foundation, she has help from a few of her friends in the area. Joann Johnson-Valainis of Walkersville said she’s known Takounakis for nearly 30 years, and supported her throughout her fight and recovery. "Liza was always very vivacious, very beautiful growing up. Her looks were a big deal [and] she just said to me one day: ‘Cancer is not very pretty,’"

Johnson-Valainis said. "You’re battling for your life, and then you don’t even want to look at yourself in the mirror. I can only imagine going through that battle and all of a sudden, your hair is gone." Johnson-Valainis said that Liza’s Lids helps women build their self-esteem.

Linda Poole-Birch of Walkersville said she’s been friends with Takounakis for more than 10 years; she built the lizaslids. org website. "Liza is so passionate about it, I just hope that one day she can do more of Maryland — I know it’s her ultimate goal," Poole-Birch said. "To be in her situation and come out on the other side still smiling and just wanting to give back is — I’m just so proud of her," Poole-Birch said.

Takounakis said she spends about $500 each month of her own money to purchase the wigs, hats and other donated items. Takounakis will need more donations to expand to surrounding counties.

She said her hair was her "signature" before the breast cancer and that "losing her hair was worse than losing her breast".

In addition to promoting early detection of breast cancer and getting mammograms early and often, Takounakis said she hopes her foundation will help women struggling with the difficulties and heartache that comes with breast cancer.

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