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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Charity that makes wigs for cancer patients calls for hair donations

Patient care organisation Rahma helps give cancer sufferers back their self-esteem with affordable wigs

Alina Ahmed,11, is having her hair cut to be used for wigs for cancer patients who have lost their own hair after radiotherapy treatment. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Alina Ahmed,11, is having her hair cut to be used for wigs for cancer patients who have lost their own hair after radiotherapy treatment. Chris Whiteoak / The National

For female cancer patients, losing their hair can be the most traumatic phase of the recovery process. That trauma, caused by aggressive radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatments that target rapidly dividing cells, healthy and cancerous, is being made easier by UAE residents donating their hair to charity to accommodate a growing demand for affordable wigs.

In May 2016, Jordanian radio presenter Hana Abu Lughod was diagnosed with breast cancer at 32. She had eight cycles of chemotherapy and four immunotherapy treatments, and like many cancer patients shaved her head before her hair began to fall out.

“After my first chemo, my hair started to fall out so I cut it short. It then started to fall out when I was in bed, so decided to shave it off,” she said. “It didn’t feel weird, as I knew it was part of the process.

“Hair is very important for women, but shaving mine off actually made me feel stronger.

“I was proud I could go outside like this. I began wearing a wig fairly soon after – it was easy and at least I didn’t have to blow dry my hair anymore.

“I could have fun with my new hairstyle. It gave me more confidence, and it was good to feel normal again. Some days you just want to look your best.”

Although wigs can cost up to Dh3,000, Ms Abu Lughod was offered a discount voucher from City Hospital, where she was having treatment. She ended up paying Dh1,000 for her new hair.

“Paying for a wig is an expense cancer patients can do without, particularly if they don’t have full health insurance and have stopped working because of their health.”

The Cancer Patient Care Society – Rahma in Abu Dhabi is one of the charities appealing for more people to offer their hair so those who have lost theirs can begin to feel normal again.

Nora Al Suwaidi, Rahma’s director general, is planning to expand the hair donor programme due high demand. “Donors pass on their hair to us. We then send it to our partner companies who turn it into wigs,” she said.

“It is particularly important for teenage girls who have lost their hair to recover their self-esteem. Older women are usually ok wearing headscarves, but younger women who are into fashion or blogging want to have their long hair.

“The really young girls want to look like Rapunzel, and always ask for really long hair.”

Alina's grandmother had cancer, but is now recovering in India and doing well. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Alina's grandmother had cancer, but is now recovering in India and doing well. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Before donation, hair needs to be washed, dried and put in a ponytail or braided before it’s cut. Ideally, the length should be at least 15 inches and once cut, it can be placed in a plastic bag and then an envelope before posting to the Rahma charity.

Rotchel Bisnar, 33, from the Philippines who works for a car rental firm, is one of those who is planning to cut her hair for it to be made into a wig.

“I read on the internet about the need for donors to help make wigs, so I want to help and donate my own hair, which is quite long and thick,” she said.

“It came to mind that it was something I could do to make life a little bit easier for people with cancer who have lost their hair after having treatment.

“The last time I had my hair cut properly was in July, so it is getting long.”

Another wishing to donate her hair is Alina Ahmed, 11, who goes to school at St Mary’s Catholic School, Dubai. Her dad, Imran, a safety officer from India, is a regular blood donor and said Alina is following in the family footsteps of supporting good causes.

“My wife and I are regular donors at blood banks, and Alina was interested in donating blood,” he said. “I said this was not possible as she was too young. I read a news article about how a young girl had donated her hair and suggested this would be a good way for her to help others.”

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Alina, who has long hair hanging about 30cm down her back, is willing to cut off 15cm to donate to the charity.

“My mother has had cancer, so it is a cause that is close to us,” Imran said.

To donate hair, or volunteer services as a wig maker, contact Rahma at marketing@rahmacancercare.com.

UPDATE: As of October 2018, Rahma no longer accepts hair donations.