Cancer is a heartbreaking and tragic disease that knows no race, gender or age. It affects thousands of men and women each year and changes the lives of families and friends of those diagnosed.
But on April 13, 2013, over 60 girls donated their long locks of hair for the Pantene Beautiful Lengths event to help female cancer patients.
Junior Allie Bedell and senior Brittany Porter organized the event. The Spaulding Gymnasium at Keene State College turned into a makeshift hair salon filled with friends and families for moral support, and six hair stylists from local salons.
This was the debut for KSC’s Pantene Beautiful Lengths and the first event of its kind to be hosted on campus. Bedell said she got the idea from the annual partnership her high school in Londonderry, N.H. has with Pantene Beautiful Lengths.
“An English teacher at our school said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if one girl donated her hair at our winter pep rally?’ So the one girl planned to donate, and [the teacher] wound up with like 60 girls the next time who were like, ‘Can we donate too?’ And now hundreds of girls donate every January at [Londonderry High School],” she explained, “It’s really incredible.”
Bedell had not donated her hair since coming to KSC, but a recent diagnosis revitalized her desire to do it again. The mother of her childhood friend, who had just passed her ten-year mark being breast cancer free, was re-diagnosed last year.
“I was planning on donating it and I was like, maybe I’ll go back to Londonderry to donate it in January,” Bedell said, “And then I was like, what if I brought it here and got a bunch of people to donate?”
With the advice and guidance of senior Becca Lazinsk, Bedell and Porter worked with Director of Student Involvement Jen Ferrell to organize the event and book the gym.
They received a Pepsi grant, and Porter handled a social media campaign last year to give girls ample time to grow out their hair.
“I helped operate the Facebook and Twitter,” Porter said, “And I ran the Pinterest page so donors could peruse short hairstyles.”
She also said she researched the contact information for stylists and letters were sent out to hair salons in the region asking stylists to donate their time to help support the cause.
Porter added, “[The donors] were wonderful, and so were the stylists. They each managed to do more than ten haircuts in only a few hours.”
“We never expected this many girls. Last summer [Porter] and I decided we wanted 50 girls,” Bedell said. “Over the course of the fall we hit 20; we were really excited and we were expecting 30, maybe. We wound up with like 62 on April 1.”
But even those numbers continued to climb.
Those who couldn’t attend the event but wished to participate contacted Porter and Bedell to donate their ponytails.
“It does take eight ponytails to make a wig, I’m really excited to go through the ponytails and count how many wigs we can make,” Bedell said.
The first portion of the event served as a somber moment for the participants to reflect on their loved ones, people they know or knew battling cancer or their general wish to help for a good cause.
Several people stood in front of the event-goers and participants to tell their story.
Junior Becca Brady listened to each speaker as she braced to donate her hair.
“I cried. They were so emotional, and I think that their stories were really powerful and just sort of make what we’re doing more meaningful,” Brady said.
Junior Marissa Strong was the first person to share her reason for donation.
“My field hockey coach died of bone cancer my senior year of high school,” Strong said. “She introduced me to field hockey when I was in fourth grade, so she was my coach for close to nine years.”
Strong spoke about her coach’s battle, saying that over the course of those nine years, she was diagnosed with five different kinds of cancer including breast, stomach and ovarian cancer. She always wanted to be the varsity field hockey coach, and during Strong’s junior year, she finally got the position. “That year we ended up going to a championship game, which was huge, but we lost. But then we were like okay, senior year, we’ll do it,” she continued.
However, that following school year did not go off to a great start. A month before Strong’s field hockey season of senior year started, her coach was diagnosed with bone cancer.
“She started getting really sick, obviously. The first day of field hockey started and she wasn’t on the field, and she had been there every single day for ten years for me. The day of our first game of the season, she passed away an hour before the game started,” Strong added. As stories were told, participants in the crowd wiped tears and continued to do so as more stories were shared. But every one of those stories ended with, “And that’s why I’m donating today.” Junior Alex Davis, who was the emcee, gave the final countdown for the friends to cut off the hair of donors.
Within the count of three, the gym was filled with nervous screams followed by bouts of laughter after the girls took their first glances of their ponytail donations. “There’s something extra special about it being the people that you know,” Lazinsk said.
“When I was looking out there, some of them looked like they were going to throw up at any second and just cry, and afterwards, the smile on their face … I think it hit them what they had done and the difference that they’re making. It really is just hair.”
Kathy Croteau, 53, donated her hair to the cause, but for a reason different from the others. After finding a lump on her breast ten years ago, she was told by doctors that it was only a cyst.
But her most recent mammogram in November 2012 showed otherwise. She was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer and had a mastectomy on her left breast. Croteau will soon be undergoing chemotherapy for a total recovery. “I told my daughter I need to find some place to donate my hair,” Croteau said. “If I’m going to lose it, I want someone to be able to use it. It’s going to someone who needs it, and it’s going to go away anyways. Why waste it?” So of all the organizations that accept hair donations, why Pantene Beautiful Lengths? The answer is all in the money. Unlike others, Pantene Beautiful Lengths is partnered with the American Cancer Society and distributes their wigs to cancer patients for free. Locks of Love, however, sells their donated hair, with costs reaching hundreds of dollars. Pantene uses a percentage of proceeds from their shampoo and conditioner line (which goes by the same name) to help pay for the cost of wig production. “The thing is,” Croteau said, “You hear all the bad things going on, you hear all the bad stories, but you don’t hear about this. This is a good thing. It’s not like you’re going to get a reward or a trophy or something; you’re just doing it to help someone else. And that’s a good thing. We need more.” Sophomore Lauren Wilbur, who also donated her hair, said, “It’s such a little sacrifice, but it makes such a big difference to everyone.”
Davis agreed with the notion. “Their gift seems so simple,” he stated, “like, they’re [donators] cutting their hair. But they’re going to inspire and make women who are at the lowest point of their lives feel beautiful, and that’s so great.” “The event was awesome, and I feel very honored that Allie let me be a part of her vision,” Porter said, who donated her hair for the first time at the event. “I definitely miss my long hair already, but helping someone facing something as ugly as cancer feel pretty again makes it all worth it.”
Bedell and Porter are currently working on booking a date for next year, and they hope to make Pantene Beautiful Lengths at KSC an annual event.
Kattey Ortiz can be contacted at