Donating your hair for cancer can not only change someone else’s life, but help you reinvent your own life…
When Marietjie Hanekom of George, in the Western Cape, heard her close friend Marijke Geldenhuys had cancer, her first reaction was disbelief. The two had known each other for most of their lives and shared a very special bond. Not knowing how best to support her friend through chemotherapy, Marietjie decided on a beautiful gesture – to cut her tailbone-length hair and have the locks transformed into a wig.
Cancer is a devastating force but it cannot break sisterhood and love.
“Marijke and I have been friends for years. We are both Professional Nurses and used to study at the same university. We were best friends at that time but then life got busy and we drifted apart. There was a time when we went our separate ways,” says Marietjie. “We started families and didn’t speak as regularly as we should have. A few years ago, we started chatting again and it was as if we had never been apart. At the end of last year, Marijke’s husband called me and told me that my dear friend had been diagnosed with cancer and was going into hospital for an operation.”
Chemotherapy and hair loss: What to expect during treatment
Following surgery, Marijke started the gruelling process of chemotherapy. As a result, she lost her hair. While beating cancer was Marijke’s biggest priority, losing her hair impounded her feelings of grief, something her closest friend knew of all too well.
“Working as a Professional Oncology Nurse for 17 years, I had sat in front of many women sharing their emotional stories from losing their hair after their first chemotherapy sessions. Although I was not in Marijke’s shoes, I completely understood the process, having witnessed first-hand the effects that chemotherapy can have on a person’s self-esteem,” says Marietjie.
“The day I heard the news, I decided to cut my hair. I felt that would be the only way that I could express my empathy and support for the process Marijke would have to endure. Explaining my intentions to Marjike’s husband and told him that regardless of whether she would want the wig made or not, I would cut my hair for her. I would research the logistics behind everything needed to donate my hair and follow through. Then I asked her husband to discuss it with her because I knew if I spoke to her about it we would just cry and nothing would get done.”
Marietjie called the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) and they recommended she contact Tymeless Hair & Wigs – a company based in Johannesburg that works alongside CANSA, helping cancer patients. Tymeless Hair is often asked by CANSA to assist in the the process of donating your hair for cancer.
Hair loss is the most distressing side-effect of cancer therapy for women
Founder of Tymeless Hair, Rani Chetty, explained the hair collecting and wig making process to Marietijie. “While a massive emphasis is placed on beating cancer, many women battle an entirely different challenge – hair loss,” says Rani. “Hair loss due to chemotherapeutic agents is one of the most common adverse effects and is rated as one of the most distressing side-effects of cancer therapy. The estimated incidence of chemotherapy-induced hair loss is 75 percent.”
Anagen effluvium: hair shedding that arises during the anagen or growth stage of the hair cycle
Anagen effluvium is THE MOST common form of hair loss associated with cancer therapy. It is usually noticed within one to two weeks of starting the therapy and becomes more apparent in the next four to eight weeks of therapy. Even though chemotherapy-induced hair loss is very common, experts have very little insight and experience on its psychosocial impact on the patients.
How long does your hair have to be to donate to cancer?
While donating your hair for cancer is simple, the length of your hair at the time of cutting and donating it is important. To donate your hair to make a wig for cancer survivors, ponytails needs to be 10 centimetres or longer (Marietjie’s was almost 100 centimetres). Both ends need to be secured with an elastic band and placed into a plastic bag, to ensure the hair remains dry and intact.
“The biggest challenge we face is the amount of hair that is lost during the wig-making process,” says Rani.
“In total, about a third of the hair is lost during the wig-wefting process, which is why so often wig manufacturers are forced to use hair from several other donors to make a wig.”
What is the best organisation to donate hair?
At Tymeless Hair, when someone is donating their hair for cancer and the hair is specifically intended to make a wig for a friend or loved one, Rani ensures that the donated hair is the ONLY HAIR used in making that specific wig. Fortunately, due to Marietjie’s length, there was more than enough hair to make a shoulder-length wig.
Marietjie took the opportunity to cut her hair in Cape Town when taking her daughter back to university. She booked an appointment on 4 February 2020, unaware that it was actually World Cancer Day, with hairdresser Hannecke Strydom at Atlantic Beach Estate, Melkbosstrand. She was incredibly nervous but felt no regrets as she pulled up in the driveway.
Signs it's time to cut your hair
“I have only ever trimmed my hair slightly three times in the past 13 years. Reflecting back, I realise now that my hair had become a crutch. I started growing it a few years after my divorce. I had two young children and went through difficult times and lots of disappointments. At first, I simply couldn’t afford to go to a hairdresser every six weeks for a trim but as time went by I didn’t want to cut my hair because it represented a period of my life which I wasn’t ready to let go of,” she says.
“My hair was a symbol of overcoming the challenges of my divorce and dealing with its consequences. It was amazing once I decided to cut it. Hannecke plaited my hair and asked me what was needed in order to make the wig. She cut my hair in a bob, just behind my ears. As she snipped away, I could feel this wave of relief rush over me. It felt like freedom. The next morning, I sent the hair bundle to Rani via Aramex delivery service, so it could be made into the wig.”
The donated hair was transformed into a beautiful chestnut brown wig
This is what happens when you donate your hair for cancer...
As soon as the hair arrived at Tymeless Hair, Rani and her small, dedicated team got to work. The end result was a beautiful shoulder-length wig, in a rich chestnut brown.
“It looked amazing. I just cried tears of joy when I saw it,” says Marietjie. “I could not believe the hair bundle I had sent off to Rani was transformed into something unique for Marijke. What was incredible was that I was able to identify the texture and energy of my own hair in the wig. I knew the wig would help boost my Marijke’s confidence during this challenging time in her life.”
A Sentimental Gift…
Marijke says the wig was one of the most sentimental gifts anyone has ever given to her, and that she will never forget what her friend and the team at Tymeless Hair & Wigs did for her. “I have since shaved my head,” say Marijke.
“The first time I put the wig on I was overcome with different emotions. The wig was indeed beautiful and although I was concerned about the logistics involved – with me living in the Western Cape and Rani based in Gauteng – the process was effortless. Rani was simply amazing in alleviating all of my fears and working through the logistical issues. I was, however, mostly overwhelmed by the love of my friend and her selfless act of support.”
“I love my new style”
Marietjie, meanwhile, says she loves her new style. “I don’t think I will grow my hair that length again. At age 50, people say I look much younger with short hair. Donating my hair for such a worthy cause has opened my eyes up to what really matters – friendship, sisterhood, and love.”
While a massive emphasis is placed on beating cancer, many women battle an entirely different challenge they grapple with behind closed doors – hair loss.
While losing your hair may seem trivial in comparison to fighting for one’s life, remaining focussed, proud, and self-assured plays a massive role in the recovery of cancer survivors.
Tymeless Hair & Wigs will help you along every step of your hair loss journey and also provide advice to those wanting to donate their hair for cancer survivors.