A cancer survivor, and those who donate hair speak out.

How a gift of hair gives cancer survivors the confidence to face the world againSandra donating her hair
Features Cancer survivors Wednesday, November 16, 2016 - 18:27

“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” goes the oft-repeated phrase. But what if the beholder of your beauty judges you by the colour of your skin, or the length of your hair, or by your body? 

This is the question which continues to haunt thousands of cancer patients especially women, who after chemotherapy are forced to deal with clumps of hair falling out

“People looked at me like I am weirdo, avoided sitting near me. It really broke my heart and I even felt like ending my life”, confesses Shalini Murali, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 when she was 29 years old. Not only did she have to cope with the diagnosis, but also had to fend for herself and her son who was around six years old at the time. Her husband had chosen to abandon her with a mountain of debt.

Despite the odds, today, Shalini continues to undergo chemotherapy and is a successful professional, fighter and an example to millions of women like her.

Breast cancer patient Shalini Murali in 2009 (left); and now (right).

While her son and her closest friends and family members gave her the strength to rise up, strands of donated hair weaved into a natural wig gave her confidence. “Although many patients wear wigs because of looks, frankly I am least bothered about my looks or beauty. Instead, I wear a wig simply to avoid people’s sympathetic glances and unnecessary questions. Above all it gives me the confidence to face the society and move along with others in a normal way,” says Shalini.

Various organisations like Hair Aid, Tangled and Hair For Hope India organise hair donation campaigns which facilitate in the collection of hair and making of natural wigs, often giving them free of cost to patients.  

Premi Mathew, a marketing professor and founder of the NGO, Protect Your Mom, under which Hair for Hope India operates, says, “A little boy inspired me to work toward this cause and create HFH”.

Premi Mathew, founder of Hair for Hope India

Dylan is Premi’s nephew and his act of kindness at the age of 6, lead to the birth of Hair For Hope India. “Dylan had really long curls when I met him in 2011. He had been growing them for quite a while and I thought that this was some hippy influence. But I was surprised to know the reason from his mother. After seeing their neighbour’s daughter donating her long hair for a natural wig for cancer patients, Dylan decided to do the same. And this set me thinking and I published his story on Protect Your Mom Facebook page, from where the word spread to different places. Some of my first donors were from the Gulf countries, Germany and India,” recalls Premi.

But the road wasn’t that easy for Dylan. Although he harboured a noble desire, his mother Maya was worried about his self-esteem and that he might face humiliation in school. She tried to make him aware of other ways to help. But he had made up his mind.

Two years later, Dylan finally cut his 16-inch ponytail. “He silently has set off a movement by inspiring people he hasn’t even see,” Maya says proudly. 

The rest was history. 

Do looks really matter? 

“I don’t care about my looks. I only wear wigs to office or some function and usually for short distance outings or even to theatres I just put a cap on,” points out Shalini.

However, Premi observes that without eyelashes, eyebrows and hair, not many are able to face society. “Society acts as if we did a huge sin to deserve cancer,” she says.

Sandra Anne Kuriakose, a 22 -year-old student of Christ University, who donated to the Adyar Cancer Institute in Chennai, notes, “These guys are fighters and we live in a society where looks suddenly end up defining a person. After going through so much, judgement is the last thing they need from us.” 

Shabnam Haritham, an Associate (Operations) at Zomato, who cut her hair to spread awareness, recounts, “I was known as the girl with curly tresses and society did not take it well at first. They asked, ‘why would you cut your hair, you are a girl’. When I explained to them, I must say all the snap judgments just went pooff! Some were impressed, some confused and some thought I was crazy!”

Shabnam Haritham donated her hair in 2013.

For Syamili Sivaraman, from Kochi, the act of donating her hair was “fulfilling”, as it was in tribute to her brother who had passed away from cancer seven years ago. “It feels very good to know that the hair that I cared and lovingly nourished for years could have such a positive impact on a person. The smile on the face of the girl that got the wig made out of my hair, is the best thing I can get in my life.”

Syamili Sivaraman donated her hair in September.

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