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Donors give cancer patients locks of hope

By Dong Hoang, Quynh Nguyen   August 3, 2022 | 02:45 am PT
Pham Thi Lan washed and combed her calf-length hair and sat on a chair as she prepared to get it cut for donating to cancer patients.

On July 1 the 93-year-old woman in Hanoi's Nam Tu Liem District agreed to have her hair cut for the first time in her life on the condition that "it be gifted to cancer patients."

"It used to take me several hours to wash my hair when I was younger because it used to reach all the way down to my calves.

"Someone once advised me to cut it short to make it easier to care for but I refused."

Nguyen Thi Lan before and after cutting her hair at her home in Hanoi’s Nam Tu Liem District. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

Nguyen Thi Lan before and after cutting her hair at her home in Hanoi’s Nam Tu Liem District. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

She recently saw some bald patients on TV and wondered why "these women and girls do not have hair" and decided to cut her hair short to donate to them.

Her granddaughter, Do Tuyet Minh, 34, explained to her that they were cancer patients undergoing radiation and chemotherapy, which caused hair loss.

She joked with her grandmother about cutting her hair to donate to them. Everyone in the family assumed Lan would refuse.

"But as soon as I mentioned donating hair to cancer patients to help them become more confident and beautiful, my grandmother happily agreed," Minh says.

Lan cut her hair two days later. Her white hair, with the odd black, was carefully boxed and sent to the Breast Cancer Network Vietnam (BCNV) headquarters in HCMC.

"Due to her old age, my grandmother can be forgetful sometimes. But her hair donation is something she never forgets. She still sometimes asks if the hair reached the recipients."

Lan's hair was received by a BCNV representative on July 25.

She says: "We were taken aback because we rarely receive white hair. At first we assumed it was dyed or bleached hair. However, when we contacted the donor and learned her story, everyone at our office was touched."

Minh Han, 28, a Vietnamese studying in Germany, began growing her hair two years ago with the intention of having it long enough to donate to cancer patients when she returned home.

She says: "This disease affected a close friend of mine, who also had to cut her long, jet-black hair for treatment. Seeing that prompted me to donate my hair to cancer patients."

To be donated, natural hair must have a length of 25 cm while dyed or curled hair must be 35 cm.

Han used to dye and style her hair, but has stopped doing any of that just to donate.

"I've been trying to find natural ways to make my hair healthy, thick and long for the past two years."

When she returned to HCMC at the end of May, she cut her hair and donated it.

"That was the first thing I wanted to do when I returned, hoping my hair will help cancer patients feel more confident in their new appearance."

"When I return to Germany, I will keep growing it," Han says.

According to Global Cancer Organization, there were around 182,500 new cancer patients in 2020, mostly with cancer of the liver, lung, breast, stomach, and colorectum.

According to BCVN, it has had some 14,000 donors so far and sent hair to more than 1,200 patients at medical facilities and hospitals across the country in the last seven years.

Every day it receives hair from around 100 donors all over the country.

Over 450 locks of hairs of JBTVN members sent to BCVN on June 13. Photo courtesy of JBTVN

Over 450 sets of hair JBTVN members sent to BCVN on June 13, 2022. Photo courtesy of JBTVN

Besides individuals sending directly to BCVN, there are also a number of community projects soliciting hair donation, such as the initiative by the K-pop boyband BTS fan community in Vietnam (JBTVN).

Over three months earlier this year the initiative, Borahair - Purple Hair, received hair from 467 donors in 51 provinces and cities.

JBTVN also held fundraising campaigns to procure wigs and bras for patients who had mastectomy, and managed to raise VND18 million.

Tran Ngoc Hieu Thao, a JBTVN representative, speaks about Tran Minh Xuan, 19, of HCMC’s Phu Nhuan District resident.

Xuan decided to donate her hair despite growing it for four years after volunteering at the hospital with her mother.

"[It is] as a gift of encouragement in the hope they will live a happier, more optimistic life," she says.

She also persuaded her mother and 10-year-old younger sister to join the cause.

Tran Minh Thu, the sister, was initially reluctant because she was afraid of being teased.

"Though I really adore my beautiful long hair, if I can donate it to someone who is sick, I am willing to cut it."

Two sisters, Minh Thu (L) and Minh Xuan, with their straight hair that they had grown out for four years before deciding to cut and donate it for cancer patients. Photo courtesy of Thu and Xuan

Sisters Minh Thu (L) and Minh Xuan grew their hair for four years but decided to cut and donate it to cancer patients. Photo courtesy of Thu and Xuan

Thu told a classmate about donating hair to cancer patients a few days later and received an unexpected response: Many of her classmates came up to her and promised to grow their hair and donate it as soon as possible.

They did as promised and the BCVN representative was surprised to get so much hair from a single source.

Besides, the students had carefully classified and wrapped their hair before sending, saving staff a lot of time, she says.

"We clearly see the happiness and confidence in cancer patients when they receive new hair.

"Donating hair is an act of spiritual support to patients, helping them fell more confident and making them feel they are not alone in their fight against cancer."

 
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