TUPELO – Katina Holland, 44, is no stranger to tragedy. Her grandmother, Leona Givhan Davis, who raised her, died of heart failure in 2013, leaving Holland with an acute desire to help survivors of tragedy. “It was a combination of seeing these people go through these things and my background, that went hand in hand,” she said. Growing up, Holland’s grandmother raised her to be of service to others whenever possible. She remembers volunteering at hospitals and nursing homes and taking food to folks in bereavement.
Holland planned to launch Wear It Well Inc., a group that provides makeovers and beauty services to those dealing with illness or traumatic life experiences, a year after her grandmother’s death, with the original plan being to serve those battling cancer.
But soon after Holland began the program, she was afflicted with a serious brain injury, which put her through the same physical and emotional struggles as the people she sought to help. Doctors told her she would never work again.
It was during this time in 2014 – when Holland gained weight, lost her vision and was forced to shave her head for brain surgery and neurological treatments – that she decided to extend her organization’s services from solely cancer patients to anyone suffering from a traumatic or life-altering experience.
The group hit the ground running in June, swelling its ranks to between 20 and 30 regular volunteers who have done 30 full makeovers of mostly women, although two men currently undergoing stem cell treatment and a 10-year-old boy with bone cancer are on the waiting list.
Holland herself will pick clothing items donated by local boutiques, and even splay herself out on the floor to give manicures and pedicures despite still recovering from a broken leg, foot and ankle in January.
The makeovers can get emotional, with recipients reliving their health issues, and watching the physical transformation from sick to beautiful, changing many survivors’ attitudes.
Lori Teem-Freeman, owner of Bungalow Salon and Barber Shop and long-time friend of Holland, has done hairstyles for three recipients in Tupelo and donates her own supplies.
Teem-Freeman has been a hairstylist for eight years.
Teem-Freeman did all of the hairstyles at her shop while also running her business and listening to the stories of the women who sat in her chair.
“They would tell me their story, while I would do their hair, I’d listen to them … I’ve seen ladies cry,” she said.
Holland and Tami Marie Bishop volunteered at Camp Bluebird, a camp for adult cancer survivors, for over a decade before Bishop got breast cancer in September 2015.
While undergoing chemotherapy, Bishop attended Bluebird, this time as a camper and Holland served as Bishop’s counselor. That relationship sparked a connection that led to their desire to help others in need of an emotional lift after dealing with illness.
“You feel empowered, and it just makes you feel really good ... they actually gave me a very nice outfit, and you just feel pretty,” Bishop said of her makeover at a recent fundraiser in BancorpSouth Arena, where four other recipients also received makeovers in early November.
Bishop, a mother of three and physical therapist’s assistant at Tri-Vista Rehab, had long, blonde hair before getting cancer therapy treatments that would cause all of it to fall out.
“I’ll tell you this about being a woman and having cancer, for me, the hardest part was my hair falling out, just handfuls of hair falling out, and becoming bald. But once I got accustomed to it, I rocked it, I didn’t wear the wig,” Bishop said.
Bishop’s hair has since grown out to shoulder-length, and after a double mastectomy and 3D tattoos, she ran the St. Jude’s half-marathon last year and got a tattoo commemorating her survival of the disease.
The group does the makeovers at pop-up shops, private homes and local salons like Bungalow. It relies solely on donations and the efforts of volunteers. Recipients are chosen based on their needs and available resources.
Those wishing to donate or volunteer can visit the group’s Facebook or website, wearitwell.org.
Teem-Freeman handles the hair-style work, while makeup is done by various volunteers. But other treatments have included massages and facials.
Holland said some makeovers have to wait because those who sign up are on waiting lists for treatments or are in recuperation.
Some illnesses of recipients have included kidney failure, stem-cell transplants, domestic violence victims and people in the military suffering from PTSD, but the bulk of makeover recipients have been cancer survivors.
Despite her own personal health issues, Holland started the group to help others improve not just appearances, but also perceptions about their own identity.
“You have to go through these things to be able to tell people you can wear it well, you can overcome, you can live through this. Yes, you may look a little different now, you may feel different, but you can keep going,” Holland said.