This Mom & Cancer Survivor Couldn't Find Curly, Textured Wigs After Chemo, So She Created Her Own
Name: Dianne Austin
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Occupation: CEO and Co-Founder of Coils to Locs
Family Situation: A divorced, proud mom of a young adult child: Paige, 23.
Parenting Philosophy: I believe in encouraging secure independence, so your child feels comfortable taking calculated risks knowing that they are being supported every step of the way.
What was your journey to having the family life you have today?
I waited until I was in my early 30s to get married. I was in no rush. I also wasn't sure how comfortable I felt about having children. Now when I think about it, I was really afraid of becoming a parent.
My fiancé at the time was really wonderful at assuring me that I would be a wonderful mom. I was nervous that I wouldn't be as successful at parenting as my own parents were, but I knew that was just the fear in me. Once I got married, my now-ex husband and I tried to conceive right away. Then about 18 months later, and unfortunately a miscarriage in between, my daughter Paige was born.
She's 23 now but I can recall this like it was yesterday. I remember the nurse putting my baby girl in my arms and I felt so scared. I think I was somewhat in shock for the first few minutes. I remember thinking, What am I supposed to do now?
I had a wonderful nurse, who could probably see me in shock, come over and sort of pull my baby closer to me. Then after a good two to three minutes, I felt an overwhelming feeling of love. It hit me hard and I fell in love with her in that moment. I knew she was the most important person in my life and that she was special. I wanted to do everything I could to raise her to be happy, well rounded and healthy. It was like a switch that flipped in me.
My experience was different from what you would expect to see in movies, but once things started to sink in, I became a mom right then and there. It's an experience that's hard to explain. The only other time I felt as scared was when I had to tell my daughter that I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015.
I was worried she was going to hear the word "cancer" and shut down. She was just starting college and about to turn 18. When I finally told her, her reaction wasn't to burst into tears, even though I could see she was really struggling emotionally. The first thing she asked me was if I was okay.
Once she started her first year of college, I started chemotherapy. I really wanted her to enjoy her college experience, so it was important for me to make sure that she knew I was going to be okay. I would keep her informed of all the positive things the doctor shared with me.
Once I started losing my hair and my skin was turning gray from the treatments — it's not that I was trying to hide it from her, I was just trying to look as healthy as possible when she was around. I would put on a little make up so that I didn't look as sick. Paige did really well her first semester and I was so grateful. I think ... even though she knew I was sick, she knew I was handling my diagnosis in a healthy way with a lot of positive thinking.
How did that experience lead you to create Coils to Locs?
The chemotherapy I had gone through had led to 100 percent hair loss, and I mean 100 percent. Every piece of hair from your body is gone, from your eyelashes to your eyebrows. I didn't have to shave my legs anymore, so that was a plus.
My doctor gave me a wig prescription and told me that I could go to any cancer center boutique, which most major hospitals have, to get a wig. The only problem was that I couldn't find one that looked like my coily, curly hair. I searched all of the major hospitals in the Boston area and couldn't find any, and then I did a larger search and began calling major hospitals that I pulled from the US News and World Report and they didn't have any either.
I was, at first, very angry about this. It was 2015 and I couldn't understand why no one had wigs that looked like my natural hair. It felt so wrong to me.
When you're sick, the last thing you want is for people to stare at you. You don't want to explain why your hair looked one way one day and then a different way another day. I decided that I wanted to do something about it, so I called my sister Pamela Shaddock and asked if she would join me on this journey.
Coils to Locs creates high quality textured synthetic wigs, ranging from Afro kinky-curly to braided styles, so women would find wigs that resemble the hair that they lost. Some women may want straight-haired wigs, but Black women have moved away from straightening their hair and we wanted wigs that reflected that. Our wigs also don't have combs in them, which can be uncomfortable if you have a bald head.
When we launched our business in 2019, we were filling a need with products but also helping reinforce hair identity. Wigs aren't just a vanity item. They can be a lifeline for people. We know that not every person who loses their hair for medical reasons wants a wig but for those that do, it's a way to maintain a sense of self. You can look in the mirror and feel like you have some control over the way you look, which can affect how you feel.
As parents, we want to be role models for our children. I'm not perfect but I want my daughter to see that anything is possible. If she wants to start a business, she can. If she sees a problem, she can solve it. I'm hoping that through me and my journey, she will stay the course and fight through adversity with whatever she wants to do.
How did your upbringing influence your parenting style?
I'm one of five children and family was always important to my parents. They always emphasized that it was important to respect each other as siblings, and that we should respect our elders. They wanted us to work hard and to be proud of who we are. All of these lessons have influenced the way I brought up my daughter Paige.
I was really shy as a child and I could see that Paige was too, when she was younger. I wanted to help her through that and I would encourage her to push herself outside of her comfort zone. It's really important to me that my daughter is happy with who she is and comfortable in her own skin.
What's your favorite thing about parenting?
It's been amazing watching Paige grow up through all of her various stages: infancy, teenage years and now as a young adult. I love watching as her personality develops and seeing what she's interested in as she comes into her own.
What's the hardest part?
Two things come to mind: One is watching her grow up, because it goes by so fast. One day, she's not even living with me, you know? Now I'm learning more about her as a young adult and I'm enjoying watching that chapter. The other hard part was seeing her have to adjust when her dad and I divorced. She was only 10.
He was very involved in her life and it was really hard to see her go through those changes because her parents were her everything. Her dad and I are both very family-oriented and because she was able to see us respect each other and show our love for her, it made the process a little easier. But it was still hard to see her go through that time in her life.
What's the best advice you can share with new parents?
It made be cliche but time goes by quickly and before you know it, your child is going to be an adult. Savor every moment and engage with your child.
What would you want your kids to say about you as a parent?
I'd like Paige to say that I was always there for her no matter what, and that I let her take risks and make mistakes. That I really tried to support her decisions, even when I didn't agree with them. That I always showed her how special she is and that she knows how much I love her.