Losing one’s hair is a common side effect of chemotherapy but for several patients, it can be a traumatic and psychologically distressing experience. Realising this, Apoorva Antarkar, a 29-year-old hairdresser and make-up artist in Pune who lost her father to cancer, has started an initiative to encourage hair donation.
“It is important to keep the patient’s morale high. I was just 21 years old when my father passed away due to intestinal cancer and I miss him a lot. He fought bravely but eventually succumbed. His pain and struggle are deeply etched in my memory and like him, there must be so many cancer patients who want to survive and get on with their routines,” she says.
After losing her father to cancer eight years ago, Antarkar had a keen desire to contribute towards the welfare of cancer patients and made a start by encouraging her customers to donate their hair when they sought her appointment for a trim or a haircut.
“One of my friends was growing her hair for donation and I asked her if I could cut her hair as my bit towards the cause,” she recalls. Her friend readily agreed and after the haircut, they saved the hair for the hair prosthesis.
Antarkar now encourages her clients to donate hair for cancer patients and has reduced the cost by half at her ‘One O Four’ salon in Kothrud.
Cancer patients are counselled by oncosurgeons about chemotherapy-induced hair loss and reassured that their hair will grow back. However, according to several studies, social support is important for patients to cope with cancer and hair loss to avoid long-term depression. “There are several inspirational women who have bravely fought cancer and hair loss but there are many others who feel the need to use hair accessories,” says Suparna Gangal, director of SMS Productions, who has also been a caregiver to a cancer patient. Gangal too donated her hair as part of Antarkar’s initiative.
“I decided to grow my hair and donate it to an NGO that creates wigs for cancer patients. The easier part about hair donation is to actually grow one’s hair. The psychological part of actually parting with the grown hair is scary when the donor cuts it for the first time. I encountered similar anxiety but the process itself is quite easy. I recently grew my hair for the second time for donation and this time it was more personal because a loved one had cancer,” says Gangal, who has also donated hair for the cause earlier.
At least five such packages were prepared by Antarkar in the last few months and sent to Neelam’s Beauty and Medicare, an organisation in Mumbai that is associated with many hospitals, including Tata Memorial Hospital.
When contacted, Neelam Gehani, a software engineer who later started her own beauty business, said she also wanted to give back to society and work for the cause of creating wigs for patients with cancer and alopecia. Over the years, Gehani has been conducting awareness programmes on hair donation. They provide synthetic wigs to patients and encourage people to donate hair for making wigs. “Our core competency is that we make wigs from the hair of cancer patients before they undergo chemotherapy. Sometimes the patient’s hair may not be sufficiently long or dense, and in that event, hair from the patient’s friend or relative is used to make a wig. Our message is one should donate hair for deserving patients,” says Gehani.