Losing my locks for a good cause
This story originally appeared in the Portland Press Herald on Nov. 24, 2019.
Last Friday, I cut off 16 inches of my hair.
Like most major decisions I make, I had thought about it for a while and then woke up one day and decided, “It’s time.” (Also the fact that my cat was sleeping on it yet again.) It had been a long, long time since I’d had an actual haircut, as opposed to a trim, and my hair was all the way down my back. (Keep in mind that I am short, but yes, I did look a little like a mermaid from certain angles.)
I thought that I should also try to donate it, because as hair goes, mine was pretty ideal (not to brag) – long, thick and never dyed, straightened, heat-treated or chemically altered in any way. I believe the term is, unfortunately, “virgin hair,” but hey, it’s what I had. I also wanted to donate locally, which is how I found Hair Matters.
Founded by Debby Porter, a social worker, cosmetologist, breast-cancer survivor – and pretty much the coolest woman you could possibly imagine – Hair Matters is based in South Portland, although Debby envisions it spreading through a network of salon affiliates. It is a nonprofit that counsels cancer patients (mostly women) through the sudden hair loss that often comes with chemotherapy and other treatments. They offer wigs (that’s where my hair comes in) and support services through salons, which are much nicer places to hang out than hospitals, I can tell you that.
Hair is important to people, particularly to women. Mine was my security blanket, and sometimes an actual blanket, for years. It’s a point of our identity. It shapes how the world sees us. Hair loss is one of the first things people think about when they get their cancer diagnosis, and that is why Hair Matters calls itself “an identity restoration movement.” You might have to lose your hair to save your life, but you won’t lose yourself.
Ironically, my dad never lost any of his hair during his cancer treatment. He died with a full head of curls, and, at the age of 59, with only a few streaks of silver. He was quite proud of his mane to the very end; even in the hospital, he still had my mom french-braid it into a pulled-back style that made him look like an 18th-century sailor. He called it his “Fletcher Christian.” I was lucky enough to inherit those particular strands of DNA. I used to joke with Dad that if he lost his hair in chemo, I would just make him a wig out of my hair and nobody would be able to tell the difference.
This was the first time I have ever gone to a real salon. Debby is based out of Ocean Waves in South Portland and I give it my full, 100 percent recommendation and endorsement if you are a person who needs to get things done to their hair. They have really good coffee, an official greeter dog (a Lab mix named Fiona who was, in my opinion, extremely essential to the entire process) and a really good playlist (Jimi Hendrix! The Dropkick Murphys! Kenny G?). Also, Debby told me my hair was “like Christmas” – so, obviously, great customer service.
As soon as the 16-inch ponytail came off (it took a couple of whacks), my hair basically popped up and out. It was always curly, but without weight dragging it down, I’m at near-Shirley Temple levels. I went from “Little Mermaid” hair (but brown) to Scarlett Johansson in the first “Avengers” movie (but still brown). I absolutely love it; I can’t stop petting it, it’s like having a quiet, cheerful poodle living on top of my head.
Hair Matters is in expansion mode. Next up on the list is buying a wefting machine to produce wigs and, perhaps, purchasing salon space. If you are interested in making a donation (either of money or hair – I’ve done both), you can visit hairmatters2me.org. (They are also always looking for corporate sponsors, if you happen to be a corporation.)
And if one day, God forbid, you get that midmorning call from your doctor saying that the results are in and you need to call them as soon as possible – well, then, God willing, Hair Matters will be there for you.
Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.