07 June 2011

Hair

another chemo hat
Note: About four years ago, I was invited to write a monthly column for a national electronic magazine, or ezine. I was overwhelmingly excited, but I was afraid I might get writer’s cramp. So I stocked up on articles to make sure I always had something to submit, just in case. Unfortunately, after a few months, the ezine repeatedly kept "losing" my submissions. After seven months, I gave up and quit submitting. They never asked what happened, so I assume my writing didn’t fit their style, and they didn’t have the guts and/or time to tell me.

The following article is one I wrote to stock up. It may not fit the ezine’s agenda, but I still like it to this day. I am sharing it now because I had planned to donate my hair again this week, prior to Ride the Rockies to make hair care easier during a demanding and physical bicycle vacation. When we decided not to do Ride the Rockies this year, The Lizard asked if I will hold off a bit on cutting my hair. Because he likes it long! I will still donate it, but I'll wait until... one day.

Those of you who read my blog regularly may recognize my friend Shonna in this post. Shonna's valiant battle with ovarian cancer ended last January.


* * *

AfterFive months after I donated 14 inches of my baby-fine, blonde hair to Locks of Love, one of my dearest friends was diagnosed with cancer and faced surgery and then a battery of chemotherapy treatments.

It was difficult for me to picture her with a naked head. That didn’t fit her personality. But I could imagine her wearing my hair. If only my timing hadn’t been so off.

I don’t regret donating my hair to a young stranger I likely will never meet. The hairdresser who whacked away at my tresses told me hair charities typically don’t receive much blonde hair from adults. “It’s too hard to grow long,” she told me. No kidding!

Mine had taken six years to reach the middle of my back. I spent the two weeks after my haircut complaining to co-workers, friends and anyone else who might listen that my hair bled when it was cut. The process felt like surgery, I whined. I didn’t think the remains of my severed hair would ever heal.

BeforeBut deep down inside, I knew a little kid somewhere would have a full head of childlike blonde hair. Long hair. Pony tails and braids!

Even with the fresh, new two inches that had grown since my amputation, I still didn’t have enough hair length to donate to my dear friend.

Unless I shaved it all off at the roots...

My stomach turned when I overheard a newscast reporting and speculating the reasons why a popular celebrity shaved her head. Then the following day, reporters were jamming the day’s news with updates on the trend this now bald celebrity ignited. Hadn’t we already survived a shiny-top stage like this just a few years earlier?

I hoped this new trend wouldn’t get swept out the salon’s backdoor with the trash. I hoped fad followers who decided to make this Picardesque fashion statement and hairdressers assisting in the revolution would handle those discarded manes with tender loving care, braid them up and mail them directly to the charity of choice, without passing Go and without bowing to the temptation to sell them in an online auction (unless they planned to donate the money they received to charity).

One head’s trash is another head’s treasure. Plenty of cancer patients literally would jump, swim or fly for the chance to collect freshly shorn scalp coverings.

nowI remember the first time I heard about people shaving their heads in support of a chemotherapy patient. An entire family, dad and kids alike — some of them even teenagers — shed their hair to show support for their mom, who had just undergone radical surgery and had to face the loss of even more of herself.

It wasn’t long before many people began making the same sacrifice for cancer victims they cared about and loved. A whole office of attorneys did it for a co-worker. A football team did it for one of their players. A principal did it for one of his students.

Since I couldn’t give my hair to my dear friend, I decided to make a warm and decorative hat for her. Here in Colorado, winter calls for such accessories. My friend had quipped she hoped her hair would grow back red and spiky. So I bought the loudest shade of red yarn with the softest fibers I could find, and two days later, I was wrapping a custom-crocheted hat, complete with pearl-decked sparkly crocheted flowers on the rim, to present to my friend.

The hat didn’t quite fill the cheerfully colored gift bag. My friend had shared several memories of the long hair she sported in childhood, including tales of experiments with color. The brighter the better! I decided another hat might be in order.

Out of my stash came remnants from a hot pink stuffed animal I’d crocheted for a niece years earlier and orange and peach leftovers from a springy afghan I’d made for a bride. Within hours, I’d constructed another hat, and on this one, I placed long, braided tresses of fluorescent-hued yarn, tied with a bright orange ribbon. My friend would be able to wear this hat in a blizzard to keep her ears super warm. Aircraft would be able to see her through the lowest visibility.

nowMy gifts created a bit of a craze in my social circle; soon everyone was knitting and crocheting hats for our now hairless friend. Blue hats, green hats, striped hats, fuzzy hats. We couldn’t give hair, but we found something we could give.

Sometimes there exists a tendency to shy away from asking for help. We don’t want to be a burden to another, or we may be hesitant to admit we can’t make it on our own.

Initially, this friend didn’t want anyone to know what she was going through. An independent soul who often gave her time, talents and resources to help others, she didn’t want anyone to know she was ill or even struggling. As chemo treatments wore on, it became necessary to bring more and more friends into the service corps. Soon, everyone knew, and we all became closer. We even enlarged our circle when curious onlookers asked why we were making so many hats. All of us rallied together for my friend’s health, comfort and well-being.

My friend is now on her second bout with cancer, and she’s going through yet another dreadful round of chemo treatments. She gave away a lot of the first-round hats to other chemo patients when she thought she was done. But she clung onto that red one.

It is still her favorite. She often wears it to bed. She has even worn it to chemo.

I think she’s trying to start yet another eccentricity. Too bad the red hat society has already been invented!

* * *

Note: In the past, my hair has been donated to Locks of Love. Another friend recently encouraged me to research where donated hair really goes, and I was quite alarmed by what I found. Below are links so you may make your own choice if you opt to donate your hair to charity. One editorial article I found suggested selling hair and then donating the money received to organizations supporting cancer patients rather than donating hair. I investigated that route, too, and actually have no interest whatsoever in the time-consuming task of trying to sell my hair. I've also been told some kids prefer hats to wigs because hats are more comfortable, easier to take care of and easily changed when the color or style gets boring. As a result of my investigation and postponement, I have a little more time to decide who will get my hair when I cut it. In the meantime, I plan to donate more charity hats. For the rest of my life.


Matter of Trust also accepted hair at one time, but they currently have a rather large wait list. Matter of Trust uses hair to help clean oil spills, so donated hair is not subject to the strict requirements of the other charities.

now

10 comments :

  1. I'm sorry about your friend. My mom has 4th stage liver cancer right now and I know so many more people with cancer. Sometimes it seems like everyone has it.

    Thanks for this post. I've been wondering lately what to do with excess yarn and crochet energy. I try not to make more things than I can use or give away to friends, but now that I'm designing and posting patterns the stuff keeps piling up. Any good charity recommendations? Hats seem like a great way to give something back.

    I covet your natural waves! Your hair looks good at all lengths. I'm not surprised the Lizard likes it long - must be a guy thing. Mr. M likes my hair long too (although mine is stick-straight).

    Enjoy Ride the Rockies!

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  2. Sue, I'm so sorry to hear about your mom. That breaks my heart. You're right. Way too many people have cancer. I wish we could find a way to stop it.

    There's a HUGE list of hat charities for cancer patients. Hats off for Cancer, Hats off 4 Cancer, Heavenly Hats, Hats with Heart, and now there's Annie's Gifts for Chemo on Ravelry. Which gave me the idea of giving to my local cancer centers and/or hospitals.

    Oh, and we're not doing RtR this year; we didn't like the route, and it's a day shorter!!! (The economy affects EVERYTHING.)

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  3. How they managed to "lose" your articles is completely LOST on me. This is a heartwarming, beautiful, thoughtful, delicately crafted body of work that deserves to be shared with the world.

    Thanks for sharing it with us and for the beautiful things you do that make life just a bit more bearable for those going through the fight of their lives.

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  4. As always, you are AWESOME!

    I have donated my hair to Locks of Love 3 times so far, never less then 12 inches at a time. I'm getting ready to donate it again, maybe for the last time as it's getting more and more grey *sigh* My oldest daughter and three of my granddaughters have also donated their hair. My grandmother, my mom and my oldest niece have all had cancer, and are (or were) survivors, we are so fortunate.

    Bless you!

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  5. You write wonderfully, Deb, and it's the ezine's loss. I will spread the word about the hats as I have many knitting and crocheting friends. My husband feels the same way about long hair, and I'm trying to find a way to break him of this as I'm leaning toward going shorter as I age.

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  6. I have had 10 or more inches cut off 3 times since my mid 30's. I always think I won't grow it that long again, and then....

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  7. It was a year ago yesterday that I cut 14 inches off my hair and sent it to Pantene Beautiful Lengths because I wanted it to help cancer victims. I'd read about several other charities that accept hair, and while Locks for Love is the most well known (and often the only one people do know), it wasn't where I wanted my donation to go.

    I'm currently growing it out again but when I do cut it next time, I'll be going the donation route again, same charity. Only maybe I'll stick with just 8 inches or so this time.

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  8. Do you have a pattern for this hat! I would love to make a few to donate to the cancer center here in my county.
    Thanks for all you do!

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  9. Thanks, Brenda! I do not have a pattern for this hat yet, but I can try to write it up after cycling season (sometime this fall). (You may have to remind me!) I should have written it while I was making it because it has been a real hit for the woman I made it for, who currently is undergoing a heavy battery of chemo because she's healthy enough to do it every two weeks. But I was trying to finish it really fast before she shaved her head, so I didn't think to write the pattern then.

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  10. I'm sorry to hear about your friend, it's so sad when people die young. Thank you for sharing this story though, like you say we just do what we can, knitting, writing, whatever helps

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