The long & short of it

Next week, more than 100 people will cut their hair or shave their heads during Queen’s seventh annual Cuts for Cancer. The Journal tracks the path of the hair and donations

Emma Parsons has a hair appointment on Tuesday in the JDUC.

Instead of a trim and some highlights, Parsons is shaving her head and donating about 15 inches of hair to be made into a wig.

Since 2002, Queen’s students like Emma Parsons have participated in Cuts for Cancer, an event run by Queen’s Helping Hands Association to raise money for cancer research and collect hair to be made into wigs for children in need.

Parsons, one of the community relations co-ordinators for the Cuts for Cancer committee and ArtSci ’10, decided to shave her head last year after volunteering at the event.

“It looked like the most exciting thing I’d ever seen, and it’s a great cause,” she said.

She has been requesting donations in her classes and asking students living in Waldron Tower—where she’s a social facilitator—to support her, as well as calling on her family. So far, she’s raised almost $200.

More than 100 participants are signed up to shave, cut or shave in support (for those whose hair isn’t long enough to donate) on Tuesday and Wednesday.

But after the pounds of hair are put into bags and the money is collected, where do they go from there?

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Parsons’ hair will be donated to Angel Hair for Kids, a Canadian organization that takes donated hair and turns it into wigs for disadvantaged children.

Any dyed or permed hair will be sent to Locks of Love. Angel Hair for Kids’ executive director, Roslyn Yearwood, said her organization doesn’t accept dyed or permed hair because the chemical changes means the hair doesn’t react properly during the wig manufacturing process.

Locks of Love puts all donated hair through a manufacturing process to clean it and return hair to its natural condition.

The American-based Locks of Love used to receive all the hair from Queen’s Cuts for Cancer. The organization provides wigs to financially disadvantaged children in both the United States and Canada.

“When we found out that there was a Canadian organization, we switched,” said Cuts for Cancer committee member Cheryl Foster, MSc ’08. The Mississauga-based Angel Hair for Kids was started three years ago as part of A Child’s Voice Foundation, a charity that helps sick and disadvantaged children.

Angel Hair for Kids was formed because there was a greater need for children’s wigs, said Roslyn Yearwood, founder and executive director of A Child’s Voice Foundation.

“We provide wigs for children who’ve lost their hair, we like to say, due to the ABCs: alopecia, burns and cancer.”

Alopecia is a condition causing people, usually young children or teenagers, to lose their hair.

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Although Angel Hair for Kids focuses on the ABCs, the organization will provide wigs to children who have lost their hair for any reason.

Children who get a wig from Angel Hair for Kids also receive a wig stand, comb and brush and styling products. The organization also provides on-going maintenance for the wigs, which they offer in both human hair and synthetic forms, to keep them in top condition.

To receive an Angel Hair for Kids wig, children and their families must submit an application.

“They have to be referred by a health care professional or a social worker. We have to make sure that the family cannot afford to pay for it and to verify what type of condition they have,” Yearwood said.

Once a child has been approved to get a wig, they see a hair solution professional, she said. The professional will help determine what the child’s needs are and what type of wig would be best.

“Usually older kids, 12 and up, and the ones who are undergoing chemo and their hair will grow back, they like the human hair ones,” Yearwood said. Younger children and those who have alopecia, a permanent condition, often opt for synthetic wigs.

Human hair wigs must be cared for like a regular head of hair—blow-dried and styled on a regular basis. Synthetic wigs hold their style and can be easier to care for.

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Although there are some independent human-hair wig makers in North America, it takes them hours to make a single wig, and the products are expensive, Yearwood said.

In order to keep the wigs affordable for the company, Angel Hair for Kids sends donated hair to United Hair, a wig manufacturer in China, Yearwood said.

Hair professionals recommended United Hair to Yearwood and her team when they started looking for wholesalers to make Angel Hair for Kids’ wigs.

“We found the one who could do the best job for the best price,” she said. “They’re very nice to work with.” Angel Hair for Kids relies on donations in order to supply the wigs to children in need. Each Angel Hair for Kids wig costs about $800 to make. Wigs sold in retail stores can cost between $1,500 to $3,000, Yearwood said.

Every six or seven months, Angel Hair for Kids ships all the hair they’ve received through donations to the manufacturer.

United Van Lines movers transport the hair for free from Angel Hair for Kids’ Mississauga location to the shipping stations.

“In September, we sent 1,400 pounds [of hair],” Yearwood said. The organization also sends measurements for caps, or bases, for the wigs, which are sized specifically for each child’s head.

It takes at least 10 and sometimes more than 15 ponytails to make a single wig, Yearwood said, depending on the thickness of the hair and the style of wig.

Yearwood said she doesn’t know exactly how United Hair makes the wigs.

Between six and eight weeks after the hair is sent to the manufacturer, wigs come back to Angel Hair for Kids, where professionals fit and style the wigs for each child.

Last year, Angel Hair for Kids supplied almost 50 wigs to children across Canada, Yearwood said.

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In addition to donating their hair, Queen’s Cuts for Cancer participants also donate money they fundraise.

The money Parsons raises—along with most of the donations collected by other Cuts for Cancer participants—will go to the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) to be put towards support programs and research, much of which takes place at Queen’s.

Donors can contribute by writing a cheque or giving cash to participants. They can donate online through the Queen’s Cuts for Cancer website, where they can choose to contribute directly to Angel Hair for Kids, said Cuts for Cancer co-chair Jessica Thom. Thanks to online donations, people can specify whether they want to donate to the Cancer Society or to Angel Hair for Kids. In years before online donations became available, Cuts for Cancer held a silent auction to raise money for Angel Hair for Kids. The silent auction will still take place this year to supplement online donations.

The cash and cheques that people collect on their own for Cuts for Cancer go to the Cancer Society, unless they specify otherwise, Foster said.

One hair donor specified she didn’t want the money she raised going towards animal research, Foster said, so she only fundraised for Angel Hair for Kids.

Most people are familiar with the work CCS does, she said, and want to support the organization.

Although the funds are distributed through the CCS’s Toronto office, much of the money donated through Queen’s Cuts for Cancer will come back to Kingston, said Joan Gowsell, fundraising co-ordinator for the Kingston CCS chapter.

“In this unit we’re very fortunate because we live in a town where cancer research does take place. The national institute for cancer research is at Queen’s.

“It’s distributed through Toronto, but it comes back to us.” ***

Donations are divided according to need for support services and research.

CCS support services include a transportation program, where volunteer drivers take patients to and from cancer-related appointments, and a peer support network.

“When you make a donation … it goes to support people within our community and their families,” Gowsell said.

The peer support network matches recently diagnosed individuals with a survivor of at least one year, and tries to match people who have similar situations.

“It could be we go so far as, this woman has two small children, so we’ll find someone with small children,” Gowsell said.

The service is also offered to friends and family, so a woman’s husband could call in and be matched with a man whose wife is a survivor.

The CCS website also offers information on every type of cancer and treatment free of charge, and is updated frequently.

Gowsell said often the first thing a recently diagnosed individual will do is run to the computer and check for information about their cancer.

“If you don’t know the credible sources to go to, it can be pretty devastating,” Gowsell said, adding that she’s been through the stress of it herself.

“You can always let us know what area of research you would like your donation go to,” Goswell said.

“Other than that, we go to where the need is.” She said Queen’s Cuts for Cancer is a major fundraiser for the Kingston CCS chapter. Last year, Cuts for Cancer raised over $38,000, most of which went to CCS.

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Donations to the CCS also go to the National Cancer Institute of Canada (NCIC), which funds a wide range of research projects.

Peter Greer, an assistant professor of biochemistry and pathology at Queen’s, is shaving his head in support of Cuts for Cancer next week. He has received funding for cancer research from the National Cancer Institute since 1992.

“They have an envelope of money, most of which comes from CCS, some from [The] Terry Fox [Foundation],” Greer said.

The institute distributes money by evaluating grant applications researchers submit every year. In 2007, 387 researchers each for grants, and 82 were funded.

“The NCIC has a group of peer review channels that evaluate and rank the grants,” Greer said. Administration officers then figure out how much money they have and decide which grants to fund.

He said the organization makes ongoing commitments to researchers, distributing a grant over a period of three to five years.

Greer and his researchers at Queen’s hold a five-year grant from the Cancer Institute and receive $142,000 per year.

They are just one of 272 research teams currently receiving grants from NCIC.

Greer’s working on trying to identify signalling pathways for cellular differentiation.

Tumours develop when cell growth and differentiation goes awry—suppressor genes or cells stop working and certain receptors are over-expressed, causing tumour growth.

Greer said there are two ways of historically dealing with cancerous growths: cutting them out or poisoning the person to get rid of the tumour.

Radiation-based or chemotherapeutic drugs essentially poison the patient. Tumour cells are more susceptible and thus more damaged than the rest of the body, but there are side effects because non-tumour cells are also affected.

“That underscores the need to develop therapies that are more targeted,” Greer said. His research tries to find out what’s unique about tumour cells and go after that.

“We develop systems where we can do research on specific signalling pathways.” Greer’s lab uses mathematic and computer models and cell- or animal-based systems to study signalling pathways and tumour development when those pathways are disrupted.

“We take a tumour cell system and activate a certain gene and graft it into a mouse,” Greer said. “We look at how the tumour grows in the mouse if it does or doesn’t have [the suppressor cells].” Greer said he’s one of many researchers working to identify targets for cancer development. From there, researchers work to develop drugs to inhibit those pathways which allow for tumour growth.

“Usually the benefits are small, incremental benefits,” Greer said, adding that multiple pathways have to be targeted and different drugs or therapies have to be able to work together.

Greer said Canadians are generally very generous with private donations for cancer research—such as to the Canadian Cancer Society—but there’s a large disparity when it comes to federal funding.

“We could do a hell of a lot more if the government funded research at the level they ought to,” he said.

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Queen’s Cuts for Cancer takes place on Tuesday and Wednesday in the Lower Ceilidh of the JDUC.

How to help

To donate hair to Angel Hair for Kids, it must be at least 10 inches long, and can’t be coloured or processed in any way.

Executive director Roslyn Yearwood said they prefer the hair to be washed, but cautioned donors to make sure the hair is dry before sending it in.

Although most of the donations the organization receives come from young people, they also receive and welcome donations from adults.

“We do accept grey hair.”

In addition to supplying wigs, Angel Hair for Kids also offers hair extensions.

“Not everyone needs a full wig,” Yearwood said. “The hair solution professionals … can determine what the need is for the child.” Dyed or otherwise chemically processed hair can be donated to Locks of Love.

A silent auction will take place in the Lower Ceilidh on Tuesday and Wednesday to raise money for Angel Hair for Kids.

Send hair donations to:

Angel Hair for Kids
A program of A Child’s Voice Foundation, 3034 Palstan Road, #301
Mississauga, ON L4Y 2Z6

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