No More Bad Hair Days
By Priyangwada Perera
“Hair loss is just that, a loss. It shouldn’t be minimised. People need to stop saying things like, ‘It’s just hair,’ or ‘It’ll grow back’ or worse, ‘You have a nicely shaped head.’ I heard all of those and none made me feel better. In fact, they had the opposite effect. Just say, “I am sorry this is happening,” writes Kristie Konsoer in her Blogspot. She says she has been living well since Metastatic Breast Cancer in 2012.
I bet we have all said more or less the same thing when it comes to hair loss in cancer patients. In an effort to understand and make them feel better, we often end up saying the very things Kristie has said. Little do we know that we are making the matters worse. Recognising this very sensitive issue, the virtual launch of Kumarika Sonduru Diriyawanthi, the National Campaign to help support cancer patients took place. Indira Cancer Trust is spreading love.
Making a difference is hard. That is why partner organisations play a major role in materialising any dream. “Where there is a need, there is a Lion”, said the Past District Governor of Lions’ Club, Chandani Vithana, joining the launch from California. We all know that people have been donating hair for wigs to be made for cancer patients. It has been happening since December 2016.
Ramani Fernando Salons have contributed 100,000 blocks of hair. They have donated 1,600 wigs for cancer patients. “What we want to emphasise is that Cancer does not mean the end of life. But we do know what our patients fear the most is the loss of hair. Some even reject medicine for the fear of losing one’s hair,” she explained. Wigs are handmade and hence the production cost is higher.
There were distribution difficulties where the patients had to come to the hospital and get those. But now, with the assistance and guidance of the Sri Lanka College of Oncologists, they have taken new measures on the whole process. They will prioritise the wigs to be given to the hospitals with the most number of cancer patients in the country.
Secretary of the Sri Lanka College of Oncologists, Dr. Sachini Mallawarachchi spoke of their encounters with patients. It is because of her close association with patients that she extended her gratitude to the Indira Cancer Trust. "Our first meeting with someone who is diagnosed with cancer is often a very moving one. Each person has a story to tell. After talking to us for an hour, they ask us, "Will I lose my hair?" This is the truth most people fail to understand. Many things can be done to lessen or avoid the complications but not stop hair-fall.
There is hardly an option for hair fall. Now, I want to tell the patients to go to the Indira Cancer Trust and discuss the problem." Dr. Mallawarachchi pointed out that artificial wigs could look abnormal. But she guaranteed that even the most prestigious Cancer Centres abroad do not have the quality of these wigs. "Don't think even for one moment that you are alone. Sri Lankans from around the world are with you," she assured.
Hemas Consumer Brand was especially praised by the Secretary of the Ministry of Health for taking this magnanimous initiative. "In the cancer journey of utmost emotional struggle, these patients deserve every opportunity and we will give every support," he assured. He said the Government has placed advanced health care for early diagnosis and also advanced treatment specially in peripheral hospitals.
Being a radiologist for 25 years he was lucky to meet Indira when she came to Sri Lanka for a PET scan. These natural hair wigs are of excellent quality and he extended his fullest support and blessings.
Stories of the cancer heroines are many. There is the instance of a 41-year-old teacher and mother of a six-year-old who was diagnosed with breast cancer, the teacher's father too has been diagnosed with a different type of cancer. Such is life. It is to these people that they bring a ray of hope. The first wig was handed over to a survivor.
Hemas joined the cause with a shared vision to help and support them to lead a normal life. They extend a caring hand in this challenging journey to recovery. It is their goal to expand this further to other hospitals. In its truest sense, it is not just a wig but a life-changing prop.
Distribution will take place in hospitals in 10 locations. The criteria to select recipients will be decided by the hospitals. Wigs are in different hair colours and different styles to make them as suitable to the recipient as possible. They hope to cater to a large number of people.
Dr. Lanka Jayasuriya, Chairperson and the brainchild of the project said they want to hand over wigs as soon as patients start medication. In the beginning, they will be given a standard wig but they could adjust it to their specification. Long hair, ponytail, or cut short, it is there to be made according to the patient’s liking. Young working women, women with children will be given priority.
But they said the needs are varied. Even grandmothers need wigs because grandchildren panic when they can no longer recognise their grandmas. The intensity of the need is immense. The message from Hemas was delivered by Kasthuri Selvaraja. The Health Ministry is ready to support this national requirement. More details can be found on the Kumarika Facebook page and partner pages.
1,600 wigs have been distributed in the last four years. Nearly 95% of the hair is those that were long, black long or layered hair. But they have short, curly, and even frizzy hair wigs. Nearly 50 wigs a month, 600 wigs a year is a whole new way to spread the love of Indira, the real heroine whose selfless mission Dr. Lanka has embraced.
Kumarika launched this initiative with their partner organisations: the Ministry of Health, Indira Cancer Trust, Lions Clubs of Aluthgama, Bentota, and Mt. Lavinia with the support of the Sri Lanka College of Oncologists.