EXTRA: Cut for Cancer
This haircut starts off like any other. Tell the stylist what style you’d like, get your hair washed, and then hop in the chair for the new cut. But this is not your ordinary haircut. Your next haircut could change the life of someone going through cancer.
The American Cancer Society estimates more than 1.6 million will be diagnosed with cancer this year. What the numbers and data can’t explain is how much those suffering from cancer want to feel normal again, and stop the pain and doctor’s visits. For many of those patients, getting back to normal can start with a new head of hair.
Donating my hair is not a new experience: I donated the first time ten years ago, in honor of my grandmother who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993. She beat the disease and continued to support others who were going through treatments. But I wanted to help too, in any way I could.
So I started growing my hair. I donated 15 inches of hair when I was 13. I wanted to help another girl feel like herself again. After years of growing out my hair, I wanted to donate again. I chose to donate to the Pantene Beautiful Lengths program, which has a minimum donation length of eight inches. There are several more rules for the Pantene program, which can be found here.
But it’s not just my grandmother’s story that inspires me to give back. It’s also stories like Nate Simmons’, an eight-year-old leukemia survivor. Nate looks like any other boy with a sweet smile and dirty blonde hair. But just a few years ago, Nate looked a little different.
“He kind of started losing his hair in clumps,” remembers his mother Ashley. “You know we just started seeing that it was coming out really thin. We decided let’s just go ahead and shave it so it won’t be so traumatic when he starts seeing there’s not much there.”
Nate’s diagnosis came at two-years-old and treatments lasted almost four years. It was too young for him to remember much, but he does remember feeling different from his two older brothers.
“It was obvious when you went somewhere that, something was wrong,” Ashley says. “Because he was bald-headed at that age.”
When the treatments were over, Nate was given a clean bill of health. Slowly but surely, his hair started growing back. It marked the end of his journey.
“You could start to see eyelashes come back. Yay, we’re making it through!” laughs his mom.
For some patients, their hair can be a defining trait. Montgomery County Commissioner Ronda Walker knows that all too well.
“For women there’s just something about our hair,” Walker says. “Our hair is important to us. And at the time of my diagnosis, I had beautiful, long, blonde hair and my hair was really a defining part of my appearance.”
Walker was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer one week before Christmas of 2014. The treatments were hard and grueling for her and her family, but losing her hair was devastating.
“One week after that date… That date of when I could expect to lose my hair, my husband had a very formal award ceremony to attend,” she remembers with tears in her eyes. “And he was going to be recognized and so it was a dress-up affair. And while I was comfortable with wearing hats and scarves, sometimes you just want to look normal.”
Walker had many different wigs to got her through the tough times, including a short brunette bob, long red curls, and a blonde number that looked similar to the hair she once had and loved. Those wigs gave her comfort through the most difficult battle she would ever face.
“Wigs today are so beautiful. And they look so great!” she says. “Nobody could tell the difference. In fact I showed up to my first county commission meeting after losing my hair, and I had my new wig on. I work with five men on the county commission, none of them could believe it wasn’t the same hair that I had had two weeks ago! And they were shocked because they just looked at me and saw Ronda.”
Doctors told Walker she was cancer free in April of 2015. Soon after, her blonde hair started growing back just the same as it had always been. Walker continues to work with the American Cancer Society in Montgomery, the organization that gave her a wig. She hopes to give back to other women walking the same path she was once on.
To donate your hair, you must follow a few basic hair care rules and have hair that has never been treated. It will take anywhere from six to eight ponytails to make a wigs, and most organizations require eight inches of hair.