The Cancer Pledge - Compassion in Action
I haven't discovered a word that fully encapsulates the emotions that hit me when I hear about another mass shooting. My heartache attaches itself to the gnawing realization that, the statistical improbability of these heinous attacks, dwindles with each spent shell casing.
Under the current circumstances, it could be easy to become lost in anger, fear, or the mistaken belief that as a society, we are little more than the sum of our headlines.
Whenever one of these emotions overtake me, I try to reflect on examples of human-to-human kindness or compassion. Compassion is a word that means "sympathetic pity and concern for the suffering or misfortune of others." Like its synonym empathy, compassion creates a desire to act in someone else's behalf. I’m most comforted by this marriage between compassion and action when I see it expressed by a young adult or child. This type of action motivated by compassion can be found all around us. I found one such example in Portland, Oregon.
In 2011, 5-year-old Moriah learned that her aunt had cancer. "Cancer" wasn't a new word to Moriah; she had already lost a grandparent to the disease. Over the next year, Moriah watched her aunt fight the illness through a variety of methods, including chemotherapy.
When Moriah's aunt started to lose her hair, Moriah's parents explained some of the options available to a person who suffered hair loss as a result of chemotherapy. One option is to wear a wig to hide the hair loss. A good wig, made with real human hair, can cost around $5,000 each. Moriah asked her parents: "What if someone can't afford a real hair wig?"
Moriah’s parents explained that several organizations use donated hair to create free wigs for cancer patients. Moriah was compelled by a deep sense of empathy to say: "I promised [my aunt] that I would cut my hair so that I could help other people."
After that conversation, Moriah and her parents chose to support Locks of Love (www.locksoflove.org). Locks of Love is a nonprofit organization that accepts hair donations from children, for children. Locks of Love has already helped thousands of families whose children have cancer, and other diseases that cause hair loss. The company's mission statement reads: "Our mission is to return a sense of self, confidence, and normalcy to children suffering from hair loss by utilizing donated ponytails to provide the highest quality hair prosthetics to financially disadvantaged children. Our recipients receive their prostheses free of charge."
The Locks of Love website also stated that "ten inches measured tip to tip is the minimum length that can be used in a hairpiece." When Moriah's hair reached the desired length, she asked her mom to cut it and send it to Locks of Love. Moriah's example inspired others, as well. Moriah's mom, cousin, and two other aunts, donated their hair to Locks of Love.
However, Moriah's story doesn't stop there. Over the years, Moriah's little sister, Rebekah, watched her sister's compassion for others play out in front of her. As a result, Rebekah couldn't wait until her hair was long to follow her sister's example.
In 2018, when Rebekah was 7 years old, it finally happened - her hair reached the required ten inches! She was thrilled, and full of questions about all the reasons why a child might need to wear a wig. To answer these questions, Rebekah and her mom did some research.
During their search, they discovered a nonprofit organization called Children With Hair Loss (www.childrenwithhairloss.com). According to the nonprofit's website, "about 2 million boys and girls suffer from a form of Alopecia (an autoimmune disease that affects the hair follicles)." The website added that "hair loss in children can also be caused by fungus, fever, emotional stress, or even harsh hair brushing."
Rebekah and her mom had a long conversation about the sadness, or loss of dignity that a child might experience if they had to walk into a classroom with their hair thinning or missing. Rebekah reflected on how she would feel in their shoes, and then she asked her mom a question: If this [condition] can last a long time, how will they afford a wig when they're no longer a kid?
Rebekah's questions prompted her family to switch from Locks of Love to Children with Hair Loss. Children with Hair Loss provides a free, real hair wig every year to a child until they turn 21. (Similar programs charge families for a wig after they get the first one free).
When I asked the girls why they wanted to donate their hair, Rebekah said, "Helping the kids makes me happy." Moriah reasoned, "Growing my hair out doesn't cost me anything, but donating it helps save families a lot of money." Both girls talked extensively about their desire to spare other kids shame, or bullying.
In total, Moriah, Rebekah, and their family have donated their hair nine times since 2011. All donations were made in memory of the promise Moriah made to her aunt, who lost her battle with cancer in 2012.
Do you want to support Locks of Love, Children with Hair Loss, or another organization that provides wigs for kids? If so, here are a few helpful insider tips from Moriah and Rebekah.
Is the company tax-exempt (i.e. 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(6) organization)? You want to make sure your donation, financial or otherwise, is going where it's supposed to go. Visit https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/charities-non-profits-a-z-site-index for more information. 2. Before you select an organization, thoroughly research the type of hair, they accept. For example, some organizations accept gray hair, and some do not. Make sure you find an organization that matches your hair type. 3. When you reach the salon, remember to ask about a discount. Some salons offer discounts or comps on haircuts that support good causes!