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Shortly after she began chemotherapy for ovarian cancer a year ago, Sen. Kari Dziedzic's hair fell out suddenly in clumps one morning. She pulled what remained into a low ponytail and headed to the Capitol where she was leader of the 34-member Senate majority caucus.

After work that day, she shaved the remnants of her dark hair and bought a wig for $500 out of pocket because it wasn't covered by insurance. Dziedzic said insurers cover wigs for those suffering hair loss due to alopecia, but not for cancer.

"I want to make sure that others who don't have the resources can get a wig," she said. "Research shows that losing hair related to cancer has a negative impact on quality of life. Loss of self-esteem. Do you wear a cap, do you wear a scarf, what do you do?"

On Thursday, she testified remotely from her doctor's office to the Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee in support of her bill. She acknowledged that insurance companies don't like mandates, but "this is putting patients first."

Her bill would require insurers to pay up to $1,000 per year for wigs for cancer-related hair loss. The committee advanced the bill to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

American Cancer Society lobbyist Emily Myatt spoke in favor of the bill, saying it can help patients feel a sense of normalcy during a trying time so they can "focus on their treatment and survivorship plan."

Dan Endreson, lobbyist for the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, didn't take a position on the wig bill, but encouraged the committee to consider the financial impact of mandates on health care costs.

In an interview Tuesday, Dziedzic said hair loss is a jarring cancer milestone. "It's a cold slap in the face. It's all of the sudden, hmmm, I look like a cancer patient," she said.

Dziedzic was diagnosed with cancer shortly after the DFL took control of the Legislature and she was elected majority leader, launching a session that included a torrent of progressive bills for abortion protections, free meals for school children, restoration of voting rights for felons and new gun safety regulations.

She worked while recovering from a hysterectomy and the removal of her spleen and appendix. When she received chemotherapy, she worked from home, returning to the Capitol in person for the final weeks.

In November, her screenings came back clear with no sign of cancer. In late January, the cancer had returned in multiple places.

Facing daily radiation, more chemotherapy and uncertainty, Dziedzic resigned from her leadership post less than two weeks before the start of 2024 legislative session. "It was a really, really hard decision," Dziedzic said.

Cancer has forced a lot of adjustments for Dziedzic. Despite multiple warnings that her wig would melt if it got hot, she checked on an egg bake in the oven on Mother's Day last year and the steam caused her wig to frizz out. She immediately drove to Hastings for a replacement so she didn't have to show up looking like a puffball or bald on the Senate floor.

Then there were the parades. Dziedzic knew the wig would be extremely uncomfortable in the hot sun so she bought a baseball cap with a built-in ponytail.

Those were minor problems compared with an unexpected $6,000 bill for genetic testing. The results would determine the course of treatment, and she said she had received pre-authorization for coverage.

"I had the capacity to read the bill and the plan and then argue with them. A lot of people can't do that," Dziedzic said. "It's kind of my mission: How do you make it easier for patients to not have to go through these multiple hurdles?"

She's trying to knock down barriers on several fronts, talking to members of Congress about federal issues. "No one wants chemo or radiation. It's not a selective, elective procedure," Dziedzic said.

She's finished her latest round of radiation and begins more chemotherapy soon so she'll continue to work remotely with the aim of returning to the Capitol.

"I'm still pretty susceptible to crowds and germs, but my goal is to come back," Dziedzic said. "It's one day at a time, that's all we can do."