by Moira Cullings
OVERLAND PARK — For women and children fighting cancer, losing their hair is often one of the most difficult parts.
It’s at that moment, they say, that the disease feels real.
In order to provide some equally real support for those battling the disease, over 100 St. Thomas Aquinas High School girls (and one male alum) cut and donated their hair for those who have none, said Mila Ellsworth.
Ellsworth was one of three keynote speakers at the 2016 St. Thomas Aquinas High School Wigs Out event, where each student cut at least eight inches off her hair to donate to Pantene Beautiful Lengths and Locks of Love.
The 138 donations collected on April 8 will be made into free wigs for cancer patients.
Annie Washburn, a senior at Aquinas, has donated each of the last three years and said she still finds it exciting.
“I think having your classmates rush down after you cut your hair and tell you it looks awesome,” she said, is a confidence- booster for what is “a pretty drastic change for a high school girl.”
The support of over 1,000 classmates, family and friends cheering from the stands also doesn’t hurt.
“It was moving to see everyone here watching us,” said sophomore Kristin Haeusser.
This is the ninth year Aquinas has hosted Wigs Out. This year, the school also raised $2,800 for Ellsworth’s “Strike Out Breast Cancer Foundation.”
Each year, there have been over 100 participants, many of whom have been touched by cancer in some way.
“My mom’s friend had cancer and she lost all her hair,” said Riley Ebert, a sophomore at Aquinas. “So I just felt like I should do this.”
The opportunity to hear from speakers whose lives have been turned upside down by this disease is a major motivational factor during a moment of nervousness and anticipation before the big cut.
This year’s speakers were Christy Fischer, a three-time Stage 4 lung cancer survivor; Ellsworth, who is currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer; and Janelle Stamm, a breast cancer survivor.
“I have always known that God has chosen me for a reason,” Fischer told the crowd. “I’ve been chosen to provide hope and strength to others that will be diagnosed with this disease.”
“I could not do any of this without you,” she added.
Ellsworth struck a similar note.
“I want to thank you girls sitting down here today. I know how hard it is to lose a ponytail,” said Ellsworth.
“But mine wasn’t by choice. Yours is by choice,” she said.
“And for you to sit down here today and choose to cut your ponytail off for me and other cancer patients,” she continued, “[that] inspires me to fight my battle.”
Stamm, whose cousin Erin passed away from leukemia at age 12, brought her niece Ashley to the event to read a poem Erin had written shortly before her death.
Titled “I Hold in My Hand,” the poem, which embodied the pain, confusion and hope cancer patients feel, was distributed to attendees before the assembly so they could join Ashley in reading it aloud at the end of Stamm’s talk.
After the talks, the countdown from 10 began, and the participants could hardly sit still.
Sitting behind each of them, was the person they had entrusted with the scissors. And they began to cut.
Although it was difficult for many of the girls to let go of so much of their hair, which for high school students is often a major part of their self-image, the joy of donating to a wonderful cause outweighed everything.
“I hope my hair empowers [cancer patients] to fight harder,” said Washburn. “I hope it brings them confidence and allows them to forget that they are patients.
“I hope when they look in the mirror, they don’t see their illness, but how beautiful they really are.”
For more information on donating hair, either Google “Pantene beautiful lengths” or go to the website: www.locksoflove.org.
For more information on the “Strike Out Breast Cancer Foundation,” go online to: www.strikeoutbreastcancer.net.