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In January, I made the decision to donate 10 inches of my hair to the Pantene Beautiful Lengths campaign, which the American Cancer Society will eventually use to make a free wig for someone who has lost their hair to cancer.
It wasn't a hard decision (you can read why I decided to donate my hair in a previous blog "Giving up my hair"), but it did make me curious to know what happens after I mail that big, thick ponytail via FedEx to somewhere in Ohio. I talked with Marisa at the American Cancer Society, and she answered a lot of my questions about the process and shared some interesting facts with me. (You can also get more information on hair donation at www.beautifullengths.com).
Once the ponytails are received, they are sent to a sorting facility called HairUWear, which transforms the donated ponytails into wigs. It takes about six to eight ponytails to create one wig, so the demand is much higher than the supply. The hair is then colored (which is why donated hair cannot already be colored or more than 5 percent gray) and styled. Once the wigs are created, they are shipped to out to 12 ACS division offices around the country.
Patients who lose their hair from cancer treatment are able to request the free wigs through the ACS offices (either their local office or by calling 877-227-1596). Unfortunately, she stressed that there is a limited supply of the wigs because of the amount of hair needed. To date, the Pantene/ACS partnership has given away more than 63,000 wigs and has received about 208,000 ponytails. While most people think of Locks of Love (a non-profit that offers free and discounted wigs to children and young adults with alopecia) when the topic of hair donation comes up, the Beautiful Lengths campaign is quickly gaining visibility. And additional efforts to promote the campaign by the ACS and Pantene are in the works.
Mass hair donation events are also being scheduled across the country. Last month, WLBT, a news station in Jackson, Miss., hosted a hair-donating event, which aimed to break the Guinness Book of World Records for most hair donated at once - a record the group broke in 2007 when more than 800 people donated 100 pounds of ponytails, which were clipped and shipped. Unfortunately, I hear they missed their goal this year, but were still able to send off 88 pounds of hair.
Marisa also shared some comments with me from patients who received wigs through the ACS. It truly is remarkable how impactful these "cranial prostheses" are to patients. One woman said that having the wig during treatment gave her the courage to take her nine-year-old son to his first day of school that year. With comments like that, I wish I could donate again tomorrow.