Hair donations for medical wigs a growing trend, as PE teacher donates long locks honouring his mum
A year 12 student cut PE teacher Josh Vater’s long hair for a wig donation. (ABC Riverland: Catherine Heuzenroeder)
A high school PE teacher who started growing his hair after his mum underwent treatment for breast cancer is part of a new hair trend — donating long locks to be made into wigs.
These wigs are in demand from people with medical hair loss, including cancer treatment and conditions such as alopecia.
Hair loss is one of the most visible signs of chemotherapy treatment and can not only be emotionally tough but also painful as the hair sheds from the scalp.
Josh Vater wanted to do something to help after watching his Mum go through treatment, and in 2014 started growing his hair with the goal of raising money and donating his locks to be made into wigs.
“Mum suffered from breast cancer; she’s a lucky one, she’s all good [now],” said Mr Vater, a football player and sports teacher at Glossop High School in South Australia.
“But I know a lot of people who have suffered. It’s a cause close to my heart; there are a couple of people I know who have suffered from losing their hair.”
It needs a bit of a tidy up but this was Mr Vater’s new look immediately after having his hair chopped. (ABC Riverland: Catherine Heuzenroeder)
Hair donations a fundraising tool
Variety’s Hair with Heart program (formerly run by the Princess Charlotte Alopecia Foundation) received 6,254 ponytail donations in the past 12 months, an increase of 800 on the previous year.
Importantly the fundraising from hair donations has risen even more dramatically, increasing by 50 per cent this year to $1.6 million for Variety, the Children’s Charity.
The charity works with a wigmaker to provide custom-made, suction wigs that can be worn during everyday activities including swimming and other sports with the hope of building confidence and self-esteem.
“There really is an army of long-haired Aussies changing lives one ponytail at a time,” Variety, the Children’s Charity head of community engagement Scott Williams said.
“Variety’s Hair with Heart program recently celebrated its 20,000th hair donation.”
Mr Vater raised more than $5,000 for the National Breast Cancer Foundation before having his locks lopped by a year 12 student and apprentice hairdresser from his school.
He was nervous about losing what had become his signature look.
“Hopefully I haven’t gone bald, or my ears aren’t too big,” he said with a laugh, admitting it would be a relief to go back to the old short back and sides.
“It’s well overdue, getting rid of the hair, the last six or nine months [I have been] really ready to get rid of it but with footy season I didn’t want to cut it off without raising hopefully a significant amount of money.”
Ellen Traeger with some of the wigs at the Caroline Bristow Wig Library, which has supported the formation of other libraries across regional SA and even overseas in recent years. (ABC Riverland: Catherine Heuzenroeder)
Community wig libraries on the rise
The need for wigs for cancer patients has also led to a rise in the number of wig libraries, which lend out wigs and scarves.
The Caroline Bristow Wig Library was established in the Riverland, where Mr Vater lives, in honour of the award-winning police officer who lost her battle with cancer.
Since its launch, the library has helped expand wig services by sponsoring five more across SA as well as one in Bali.
Former teacher Ellen Traeger — who battled cancer twice — was one of the drivers of the library.
She remembers the discomfort of losing her hair and knows that for many people wearing a wig can make a big difference.
“It can make people feel whole, and feel for at least a little while that they are not sick,” Ms Traeger said.
Cancer survivors touched by hair donations
Mr Vater had the full backing of his school community as he sat down for the first hair cut in four years.
Fellow teacher and cancer survivor Vicki Constas said hair donations played an important role in raising awareness about the impact of cancer treatment.
“From the time you had your first chemotherapy, you stay positive, say you’re not going to lose your hair, but three weeks later you’re actually wearing a wig or a scarf,” Ms Constas said.
“And it’s only hair, and it will grow back … but it’s about raising awareness.
“Cancer touches so many families in our school community and this is a wonderful way of raising awareness and raising money for a good charity.”