I Didn’t Lose My Hair to Cancer, But I Cut it Off Anyway

Survivor’s guilt is real.

If you’ve been following my story on Northshore Parent, then you know that I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ in November. I’ve traveled a long road since then – appointments, tests, needles – all leading to a February mastectomy with reconstruction with tissue from my abdomen. Of course, in the three months between diagnosis and surgery, invasive cancer formed. I no longer had just the “good kind of cancer.” A team of doctors cut it out of me and I survived it. I continue to survive as my body works to heal from that seven hour surgery and continues the fight with hormone blockers to minimize the chance of the cancer coming back. My doctors like to tell me this is a journey. It’s something I’ll have to manage and be diligent about for the rest of my life. I don’t consider myself to have “beat” cancer. I just survived it.

I’ve been through a lot. I’m thankful that I was eligible for a surgery that allowed me to be whole again, but I will never again have feeling in my right breast. I have a new belly button and a scar on my stomach that wraps from hip to hip, all of which is numb as well. But other cancer survivors have been through more. A lot more. I am thankful that I didn’t need chemo and all of the side effects that come with it. I am grateful that my surgery was successful and I didn’t need any emergency surgeries following it. I feel almost whole again and it won’t be long before I look it as well. 

Cancer care has come a long way, but still has a long way to go for some people. I see them and hear from them in support groups and I am amazed by their strength and perseverance. I look at them and wonder why they got the worst of it. Why did they have to go through so much more? Those are the ones who are beating cancer – the ones who spend 6 hours in a hospital getting chemo flushed into their bodies from a port that had to be surgically implanted in them, the ones who find the strength to shave their heads just before they begin losing all of their hair so they maintain some control over what is happening to them, the ones who fight lymphoma from having too many lymph nodes removed. They are fighting for their lives and beating cancer.

I realize their journeys shouldn’t diminish my own. My recovery was hard and we all have different paths. Funny enough, if I saw another women who went through exactly what I went through, she too would be a warrior who beat cancer in my eyes, but feelings are irrational sometimes and it’s hard not to feel guilty that I had it a bit easier than others. Survivor’s guilt is a real. 

With all of this in mind, I decided to shake things up and live a little to make it all count. I eat the carbs when I want them (but I’m paying for that in the extra thirty pounds I’ve gained); I’ve repainted my patio because I want to spend more time enjoying my backyard; I learned to cook twenty-one new dishes to try new things with my family.

And then I decided to cut my hair.  I’ve had fairly long hair for most of my life, but I decided to go short and edgy. While I am short and edgy myself, I’ve never had the guts to have the hairstyle to match my personality. 

Then someone reminded me that I can donate it and the thought of doing so chipped a bit of that guilt off my shoulders.  I have the ability to give to one of those warriors. I’ve read that people who lose their hair often experience depression, anxiety, poor body image and low self-esteem. It’s just a small effort on my part to help. 

And let me tell you, if it weren’t for that, I might have chickened out. I think many of us have an attachment to our hair and it’s not an easy decision to let it go, especially when I started researching hair donation places and saw that many require 10+ inches. Yikes!

Before this, I never really considered hair donation requirements, but some places do not take color treated hair. Of those that do, not all take highlighted hair. Of that group, none take overly bleached hair. So, depending on hair type, a donation could take some planning. Undoubtedly, there is a place for you if you so choose. Let’s take a look at some popular places.

Hair Donation Options

  1. Locks of Love is one of the most popular and notorious hair donation organizations. They got a bad rep a few years ago when a post began circulating that they charge recipients for wigs. According to their website, this was erroneous information and not only are their fitted prosthesis free of charge, but they also provide a temporary wig to each recipient while they await their custom piece. Hair must be a minimum of 10 inches, permed or colored hair is accepted. Shorter hair is accepted, but will be sold to offset their costs, as well as grey hair since they cater to those under the age of 21. https://locksoflove.org/faq/
  2. Wigs for Kids started 30 years ago when the founder’s niece was losing her hair due to leukemia treatments and desperately wanted hair for her gymnastics tryouts. They cater to those 18 and younger and children can get their wig measurements at affiliated salons nationwide, with the closest one being in Gretna. Mandeville does have one of their ambassador salons, which harvests hair and supports fundraising. Wigs for Kids hair donations must be a minimum of 12 inches, although they prefer 14 inches or more. It must not be dyed or color treated, but gray hair is accepted. Wigs are provided at no cost to the applicants. https://www.wigsforkids.org/donate-your-hair/donate-a-ponytail/
  3. Hair We Share accepts 12-inch hair donations, including color treated, but only natural colors. They do not accept highlighted or bleached hair, but do accept gray hair. Wig recipients must be 18 years or older, and many of them will receive a wig for free. However, they do require applicants to submit proof of income status and medical bills to take into consideration. https://hairweshare.org/
  4. Children With Hair Loss also started when the founder’s niece was diagnosed with leukemia and she is now a thirty-year survivor. They provide free wigs to those under twenty-one. They accept hair that is a minimum of 8 inches, but they prefer 12 inches or more. Non-chemically treated hair is preferred, but any hair in good condition is accepted, including gray hair. According to their site, in 2019, six Louisiana children received Children With Hair Loss wigs. https://childrenwithhairloss.us/
  5. Pink Heart Funds was launched in 2005, not long after the founder survived her own battle with cancer. They provide wigs to both adults and children and accept hair donations that are 13 inches in length, can be colored but not overly processed and may be gray as well. Pink Heart Funds also provides women with free breast prosthetics and post-mastectomy bras. https://pinkheartfunds.org/about-us/

In the end, because I had highlighted hair, I ended up donating to Locks of Love.

While cutting my hair won’t change the world, it might mean the world to that one person who receives it. As a mom, I also wanted to show my daughter that no mater what you are battling in life, you can always find a way to give. There are so many ways to support the men, women and children who are battling so much. This is just one little thing I knew I could do to make a small difference. And it turns out, I had 11 inches to give! If you’re planning a haircut, break out the ruler. You just might have enough to donate too!

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