Hair today, hair tomorrow

This week my colleague, Lee, showed up at work minus most of her long, shiny chestnut hair –  and sporting a great big smile. As a card-carrying female member of the species, I fully understand how a fresh new coif can bring a grin to the ol’ façade, but Lee’s grin was for a different reason entirely.

You see, instead of going to a regular salon, Lee stepped boldly up onto the stage at an event called “Shania’s Sunflower of Hope Fun Fair” in Markham on Saturday, and, along with about a dozen other brave young ladies, had her locks sheared off to help make wigs for cancer patients.

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A one and a two and a....

I just love it that there are people like this in our world.

The Fun Fair, now in its fourth year, is named for a little girl called Shania Johnston, who died of neuroblastoma, one of the most common childhood cancers, in 2007 at the age of eight. The fair, organized by Shania’s dad, Shayne Johnson, raises money to support neuroblastoma research at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. To date, the event has generated more than $170,000.

Lee has been involved in the Fun Fair since its inception. A friend on the organizational committee asked her to lend a hand, and Lee hasn’t looked back.

“Originally I was just helping her out,” she says, “but now she expects me there, which of course, I don’t mind,” she says with her typical modesty.

Two years ago, however, her commitment became intensely personal: her own mum was diagnosed with lymphoma, a cancer that attacks nodes in the immune system.

“It made me stop to think what I could do,” Lee writes on her fundraising page, “so [I] decided to donate my hair to provide wigs for cancer patients.”

Lee’s mum’s cancer is now in remission, mercifully, but Lee’s commitment to her goal has never wavered. For two years, she has quietly and patiently tended to her “crop” – no cutting, no colouring allowed – and waited for the Big Moment to arrive.

I asked her if she was nervous when it came down to saying goodbye to her hair – after all, who among us has not quaked just slightly in the hairdresser’s chair, or had a fit of nerves over something as simple as a “bad hair day”?

“I actually was, a little,” she laughs. “I’m not used to getting my hair chopped with an audience!”

Regardless, last Saturday, surrounded by a gaggle of similarly long-haired (and similarly nervous) girls, she waited till her name was called and then bravely stepped up into the limelight. Her hair was gathered into a ponytail at the base of her neck, then braided so that no strands would fall to the floor – anything that hits the floor is not use-able for a wig.

“They chopped it off just above the ponytail and gave me the braid when it was over,” she explains. “There was an actual stylist there, who donated his time, and I told him to take as much as he could.  They asked me what kind of style I wanted and I told them to do whatever [they wanted] as long as it was even.”

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Our hero and her sporty new 'do.

As she sits at her desk, her hand still comes up to brush aside an imaginary braid. The new ‘do is sporty and stylish, but it will clearly take some getting used to!

And somewhere, sometime soon, a young cancer patient will also be getting used to his or her brand-new wig, thanks to Lee and the other young ladies who donated their hair last weekend.

All too often, people feel – and act – helpless in the face of disaster, illness or injury, and often this is because they feel that their efforts would be too puny to make a difference, or because they simply don’t know where to begin. Just about 10 days ago in Toronto, in fact, an old man was mugged in our subway and not a single person stepped up to help him. It boggles the mind.

World-weary Smiter that I am, though, I like to think these cases are few and far between, and that people like Lee are the rule rather than the exception.

The bottom line, says Lee, is that you don’t have to be Gandhi or Mother Teresa: every little effort counts, whether it be volunteering, donating blood, being an organ donor (which we all should be, but that’s a different column for another day), learning first aid, sponsoring a child overseas – or growing out your hair so that someone else’s fight with cancer doesn’t have to completely strip them of their sense of self.

It really is the little things, she says.

“This is my small contribution.”

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