“My aunt had been suffering from cancer. After she lost her hair due to chemotherapy, she would always wear a scarf so that no one could see that she was bald. Once her grandchild accidentally pulled the scarf, and I noticed how petrified she was at that moment. It was then that I realised the amount of trauma and embarrassment that women go through when they go bald,” shares Arpit Dhupar from Anand Vihar. Dhupar had been consciously growing his hair since 2015 to donate it for the production of human hair wigs for cancer patients. On his third try, he finally had the opportunity to be part of the cause. With the help of Hair for Hope, India—a campaign started by cancer survivor Premi Mathew to encourage hair donation that helps cancer survivors—Dhupar sheared off 12 inches of hair for donation. While Dhupar’s decision stemmed from his familial connection to a patient, Noida’s Shreya Dogra was inspired to cut her hair for this cause after watching a YouTube video of a young cancer survivor meeting her donor.
Hair loss often brings with it a sense of vulnerability and fear. With diagnosis and treatment already taking a physical and mental toll on a patient’s body, alopecia as a side effect of chemotherapy can also be quite difficult to deal with. Given the unnecessary taboo associated with hair loss in women, female patients often want to wear a wig as it helps them deal with loss and boosts their confidence. The uncomfortable quality of synthetic wigs, although cheap, makes it a poor choice. Human hair wigs, on the other hand, can cost a fortune. This is where hair donation drives and campaigns organised by Indian NGOs prove to be a blessing. These organisations aim to provide cost-effective wig options to economically-vulnerable cancer patients.
Dogra—she donated her hair directly to a cancer patient named Upasana—mentions how the idea of hair donation struck her after she saw a few videos of Upasana talking about losing her hair. “I could see that she was upset. I realised that by donating my hair for a wig, I could help instil a sense of confidence in her. Although it is only a wig, it makes cancer patients feel a little bit like their previous self,” she says. “Moreover, human hair wigs are difficult to maintain. So I feel these wigs help the patients believe it is their own hair they are taking care of,” adds Dhupar.
Hair loss in women—no matter whether it is naturally, due to medical treatments, or for donation—is unfortunately deemed unacceptable by many. “When I used to visit my grandfather in the hospital, I would see a lot of women who had lost their hair because of chemotherapy. They would get judged just because they had no hair. After I donated my hair, many people laughed at me. They would also ask if I had any physical problems,” shares Palak Garg (18) from Sonipat, Haryana, who is a recent hair donor. Expanding on Garg’s thoughts, Dhupar points out that the transition to baldness in men is seldom looked down upon. “No one would give us a second look. However, so many determined and powerful women who I have interacted with did not have the courage to face society after their hair loss,” he elaborates.
Hair donors also mention that there is a sense of solidarity associated with this being part of the cause. The people we spoke to add that contributing their hair felt more like a personalised gift to a patient than just a donation. For East Delhi resident Anu Kumari, hair donation was a personal gesture. Kumari, who was recently diagnosed with first stage breast cancer, decided to donate her hair to this cause before she lost it all during treatment. “On Instagram, I would often see places one could visit to donate their hair. But I never had the courage to do it. It had taken me a long time to grow my hair. Afterwards, when I realised that I would lose my hair as well, I decided that instead of wasting it, I would make someone else happy.”
The power of social media
People have been using social media effectively to raise awareness about the importance of hair donation for this cause. Most donors post detailed videos and stories about their experience to help inspire others to become hair donors. “Social media definitely helps. I remember through my posts, many friends came forward to ask me for information about how to go about this,” shares Geena Anjelus Samar from Noida. However, Dhupar points out that there is still a long way to go. “While it is true that many people from my personal network, especially boys, have started growing out their hair to donate after I posted about my experience on social media, I still believe it’s only scratching the surface. This cause still has not got the attention that it should,” he concludes.
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