By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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A touch of style, hope

David K. Yamamoto / Special to The Star: Juan Bernal glances toward his 4-year-old daughter, Kalista, during a recent church service at the Apostolic Assembly Fountain of Life Center in Ventura. Kalista has alopecia areata, a condition in which she lost all her hair.

Crowning glory

Synthetic locks answer the prayers of little princess with rare condition

Monday, June 16, 2008
Ventura County Star

Imagine living as a parent in a world where every little girl except your own has a full head of hair.

That was the life for Rikki and Juan Bernal of Oxnard, whose daughter, Kalista, lost all her hair by age 3 as a result of an uncommon disease with no known cause.

"I'm a pretty happy guy, but sometimes when I see her, it breaks me down," said Juan Bernal, 45. "As a man and a father, it really breaks my heart. Although she's happy it really hurts me inside to know that down the road, it's going to be hard for her."

The outlook on Kalista's future became much brighter when her father read a newspaper article about Godiva's Secret Wigs, a shop that specializes in working with first-time wig wearers undergoing medical challenges such as chemotherapy, radiation, or loss of hair because of genetics, stress or other medical reasons.

"I could not even finish reading the article because of the excitement and positive feelings I was getting from what I was reading," Bernal recalled. "Sometimes we as adults have little faith, but that doesn't mean that a miracle can't happen especially to a pretty little girl like Kalista, who prayed for the miracle of hair, and in faith hoped she would get it."

Just days after he made the first call to Godiva's in Thousand Oaks, the owners found a vendor that carried the right wig for Kalista, and it came in the exact shade of medium brown that her parents had hoped for.

"The moment the wig was placed on her head, the feeling of helplessness disappeared, and all we could feel was happiness and joy at seeing our girl with hair," her dad said. "As soon as she put her hair on, I wanted to cry then and there; that's how emotional that situation is for us."

Out of more than 20,000 women, Kalista is the youngest client served by Godiva's Secret Wigs since the store opened its first of three locations in 1997, said Danielle Scott of Canoga Park, who runs the business with her mom, Rochelle Scott of Westlake Village.

"At first, I contemplated ordering an adult-size wig and altering it to fit her head, since we do alter wigs when necessary, but I decided to go the extra step and find something made specifically for a small girl," said Danielle Scott, who works with more than 30 different vendors. "It was a bit of a challenge for me to find a child's wig that looked realistic, but after much research, the one I found was perfect."

The best part of Kalista's high-quality, synthetic wig is that it has a memory curl, "so Kalista's mother can wash her wig at night, shake it to drip dry in the shower and, in the morning, Kalista's wig will dry into the original style without any rollers or blow-dryers."

Blending in

We all expect to see hair on women — especially little girls — and most people have enough to worry about without hair being one of those factors, Scott said.

"This wig allows Kalista to blend in with the people around her," Scott said. "Wigs will allow Kalista to stand out and be recognized for the amazing girl she is and the woman that she will become, instead of standing out because of her lack of hair."

Flash back to July 31, 2003 — the day Kalista Apollonia Bernal was born the youngest of two brothers and two sisters.

"And boy were we surprised when out popped a full head of beautiful hair, a little crazy looking because of the delivery, but we knew it was a full head of dark, healthy hair, on a healthy, pretty baby girl," her dad recalled.

In December of 2005, Kalista's mom noticed a round patch of hair was missing from the side of her baby's head. As weeks turned to months, the spots turned to patches.

"Clumps of hair were falling out and my wife and I were going crazy trying to figure out what was causing it," said her father, who made appointments with doctors and dermatologists to find out what was wrong — all the while dealing with his own sadness and depression every time her hair fell out.

"Family and friends would now ask if she was sick or something, but we had no answers."

In January of 2006, Kalista was diagnosed with alopecia areata, a condition in which hair is lost, from one spot on the scalp to many spots to total hair loss.

The court of public opinion

By her third birthday, Kalista was completely bald.

Often at stores or other public places, adults and children would look at her, "and we could see it in their eyes: What happened to her?'" her father said. "At first, it bothered us somewhat, but Rikki would turn it around by telling Kalista, Mija, they are looking at you; wave at them.' And she would, smiling, not understanding what was happening and why people were looking."

One day, Kalista walked into her parents' bedroom with a scarf draped from side to side, ear to ear.

"She was combing it and saying, Look Ma, look Dad, look at my new hair Jesus gave me,'" her father recalled. "Tears welled in my eyes and I felt a feeling like I've never felt before. I looked at my wife and saw the same feeling I felt.

"With tears running down our faces, we looked at Kalista with her big giant cheeser smile, with two well-defined dimples at each end. She was just standing at the foot of the bed combing the scarf as if it was her hair. We had been telling her to pray to Jesus for hair."

Finding hair for Kalista is nothing short of a miracle, her mom said.

"If it wasn't for Godiva's, I honestly don't know what we would do; it looks like her real hair," said Rikki Bernal, 35. "If she wants to wear it, she'll wear it. Kalista decides. We leave it up to her."

Every time she puts on the wig, Kalista undergoes a transformation from a tomboy to a girlie-girl.

"She's got two different personalities; when she doesn't have it on, she'll be climbing fences and doing boy things with her brothers," her mom said. "When she has her hair on, she's Miss Prissy with her little high heels; she's so ladylike. Everybody gets a kick out of it."

When Kalista first got her hair, "I felt happy!" exclaimed the 4-year-old. "I like to wear it because it's better."

Godiva's Secret Wigs has three locations: in Woodland Hills, in Valencia and, locally, in Thousand Oaks, at 2412 Thousand Oaks Blvd.; 494-WIGS.

To hear this story on Alicia's radio segment, click on the link below:

Wig shop caters to cancer patients

Photos by Chuck Kirman / Star staff Rochelle Scott places a glamorous new coif on customer Renee Brown of Newbury Park. Scott has recently opened Godiva's Secret Wigs.

Saturday, June 2, 2007
Ventura County Star

Rochelle Scott will never forget the day in 1997 after her stepmother had been diagnosed with cancer.

"She came home crying and humiliated by the poor choices of wigs and the lack of TLC she received from wig stores," recalled Scott of Westlake Village.

A wig wearer for more than 25 years with a background in client service, Scott sensed her mission was to introduce women to wigs in an uplifting, respectful way.

So she launched Godiva's Secret Wigs, a business with clients referred by oncologists, hospitals and clients throughout California.

Now, with 10 years in the wig business, Scott most recently opened two stores at The Oaks mall: Godiva's Secret Wigs and the adjacent Godiva's After Dark A Boutique for Romance.

Godiva's Secret specializes in hair extensions, wigs and other merchandise for those experiencing hair loss because of stress, genetics or medical challenges such as chemotherapy or radiation.

"Our specialty is working with all women, but our passion is helping women undergoing chemotherapy make their transition to wigs as uplifting and positive as possible," said Scott, who also has stores in Woodland Hills. "Most clients in this situation are extremely concerned with losing their hair. So oncologists send their patients directly to us for a boost of confidence and encouragement in our comfortable atmosphere."

Right next door, Godiva's After Dark offers adult products designed to help bring romance back into the lives of couples.

"I've worked with nurses of oncology and sex educators to carry unique products that can enhance and revitalize communication between loving adults, and the response has been fantastic," Scott said. "Our product line includes lingerie in all sizes, oils, games, wedding and birthday gifts and a few little naughty things, too."

A customer's tale

Michelle Cox of Simi Valley discovered Godiva's Secret Wigs through Kaiser Permanente, where she is undergoing chemotherapy.

"I needed a wig because I was losing my hair," said Cox, 28, a customer for about two months who purchased a long wig called Thin Candice, which increased her confidence and made her feel normal.

"The personal assistance I received in choosing my wig made me feel at ease and comfortable," Cox said. "It is a caring and warm environment for anyone going through chemotherapy."

Scott serves about 900 clients in the Conejo Valley; ages range from 35 to 65.

Typically, a client will love four out of the five wigs she's tried and, at reasonable prices from $99 to under $350 "our clients enjoy having a selection of styles and colors to choose from in their day-to-day lives," Scott said.

The realistic wigs and hair additions are made of high-quality synthetic fibers, which need no blow-drying or curling. That means the wearer can hand wash, condition, shake and hang her wig in the shower. In the morning, the wig or hairpiece is dry and ready to wear in the style it was purchased.

"We don't carry thousands of wigs; we only carry wigs that look real," Scott said, emphasizing that her wigs are feather light, open and airy to wear, so they don't inhibit hair growth.

"All wigs are available in over 35 beautiful color blends, so we're able to match about 97 percent of any client's hair color even wigs with roots, which are impossible to recognize."

All the difference'

Godiva's Secret was recommended to Denise Sandlow of Simi Valley by the oncology nurses at the Kaiser Woodland Hills Cancer Center. Recently diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, she has started chemotherapy.

"I knew my hair would be falling out, and, before it did, my sister and I went to Godiva's Secret to look at wigs," said Sandlow, 49. "We thought it would be better to go before I lost all my hair so we could match my hair color."

As a new customer, she is pleased with one wig in particular: a short, layered cut, "kind of a young Meg Ryan look and blond. I just love it."

She plans to go back for other head coverings such as scarves and hats.

"They also have hairpieces, like cute bangs, that are worn with the hats."

The merchandise is special, Sandlow added, because it is geared toward women who have suffered hair thinning or loss whether from chemotherapy or a variety of other reasons.

"Godiva's Secret has changed my life because even though I have lost my hair temporarily due to chemo, I can feel confident and pretty when I wear my wig," Sandlow said. "Having a place like Godiva's Secret to go to and talk to people who understand what you are going though and can offer helpful suggestions just makes all the difference in the world."

Godiva's Secret Wigs is at 2412 Thousand Oaks Blvd.; 4940-WIGS. Godiva's After Dark A Boutique for Romance is at 2410 Thousand Oaks Blvd.; 497-LUV7.

For more information, go to

'An empowering experience'

Woman shaves head to honor friend and spread message that hair does not identify a person

Photos by Chuck Kirman / Star staff Calabasas resident Karen Garren gets her head shaved, as a way to honor of her best friend, Marni Levine, who died of cancer. Garren said she hopes "to share this experience with other women who might be losing their hair and are nervous about shaving their heads."

Thursday, October 18, 2007
Ventura County Star

For 38-year-old Karen Garren, shaving her head was about feeling closer to her best friend and spreading the message that "it's only hair."

"I had been thinking of doing this before, and now it just feels right," said the Calabasas mother of two, whose friend Marni Levine lost her battle with cancer on Aug. 31, 2006, at the age of 37. "I would love to be able to share this experience with other women who might be losing their hair and are nervous about shaving their heads."

On Oct. 11, Garren shaved half her head at Godiva's Secret Wigs in Thousand Oaks and the other half at the store's branch in Woodland Hills.

The first-time "Buzz Becuzz" was hosted by Godiva's, which sells hair extensions, wigs and more for anyone but especially those experiencing hair loss because of medical challenges such as chemotherapy or radiation.

"The Buzz Becuzz event was not about the hair," emphasized Rochelle Scott, Godiva's owner and Garren's aunt.

"Karen's hair, like many other women's, is on the thin side," Scott said. "However, no matter the thickness or length, a woman's hair is her glory and the shaving of it is emotionally charged. Our intention is to create an empowering experience for any woman who is losing her hair and needs to go somewhere to cut it off."

By shaving off her short-cropped hair, Garren hopes to convey the message that hair does not identify a person.

"I experienced hair loss from stress a few years ago, and have been wearing wigs since then," she said. "However, we as women can feel that our hair is what identifies us, and I am hoping to show women that changing our looks, be it through wearing a wig or shaving our heads, we are still the wonderful women that we are."

For four years, Garren has worked at Godiva's helping women choose wigs because of hair loss caused by chemotherapy, Scott said.

"Karen has seen firsthand the emotional and physical changes that women experience because of cancer," said Scott, who added that as clients lose their hair, Godiva's offers to cut it off at no charge.

"We make the experience as loving and enjoyable as possible, but we can't pretend that it isn't extremely upsetting for many," Scott said. "Godiva's Secret's role is to create a comfortable and caring atmosphere during this very sensitive moment in some women's lives."

Women go to Godiva's Secret every day having just been diagnosed with cancer.

"They hesitate to visit us, thinking that this will be the worst day of their lives," Scott said. "But, we're hair to help' and respectfully teach our clients the tricks no one shares about wearing a wig. They leave us relieved and happy that we're here for them in all ways — from shaving their hair to choosing great wigs to providing hugs and, if necessary, tissue."

Garren said she will continue to wear wigs, long and short, and experiment with wearing nothing at all.

As her hair grows back, she has agreed to allow her 10-year-old daughter, her 7-year-old son and Marni's two daughters, ages 13 and 10, to dye her hair whatever color they choose.

"I have gotten to a place where only my opinion of myself matters," Garren said. "I am not afraid to look bad. I am secure in who I am, and will still be the same person with or without hair."

She continues to draw strength and courage from her late best friend.

"Marni was the strongest woman I have ever known," said Garren, adding that Marni was the highest-ranked female in the U.S. in her form of martial arts called Krav Maga, which originated in Israel.

Along with her husband, Marni created a business that trains police officers and civilians all over the world, with schools all across the country as well as in Japan.

"Marni was an incredible wife and mother, as well as a brilliant businesswoman. I could go on and on," Garren said. "She touched so many lives in her short time here, and I feel so blessed to have been so close to her."

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