Two years ago, Catholics in the southern Indian state of Kerala established a ‘hair bank’ to help provide wigs for cancer sufferers who lost their hair due to radiation treatment.
The name of the project is ‘Sahrudaya’ which means caring and it has benefited hundreds of cancer sufferers unable to afford the cost of expensive wigs.
Sahrudaya is run by the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese in collaboration with Caritas India who also run a cancer care campaign offering free of cost treatments for cancer patients from low economic backgrounds in the state.
Seema Biswas is one of those who has benefited from a wig from Sahrudaya. Three years ago, she was diagnosed with lung cancer and was given chemotherapy for about a year. During that time Seeema lost both her appetite and her hair, which left her further depressed and anxious.
“I found nothing beautiful in my life and was spending hours in dark rooms. For months, I didn’t see myself in the mirror. Cancer didn’t frighten me any longer. A woman’s prestige and glory is her hair. When it is lost, everything is lost,” Seema said.
Her husband, Mangat Biswas is a vegetable vendor and his earnings were too meagre to cover Seema’s treatment costs. She was being provided the treatment at the Caritas India run Ashakiranam Cancer Care who also, last August, provided her with a wig from the Sahrudaya project.
“I wanted to buy a wig from the market so much, but its cost was too much for me. Now that I have one, believe me it seems like someone has given me my life back. I am recovering from the disease and I pray to God that I may get my hair back,” Seema told LiCAS.news.
Jessy Singh had a similar ordeal. Last year the 41-year-old was working at a supermarket until she was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Within the first three months of her radiation treatment, her hair began to fall out and depression set in.
“My hair used to be dear to me more than my life. Its loss was the loss of my entire being, my life and my emotions,” Jessy said.
“I used to take two antidepressants to help me sleep and many more to avoid panic attacks. I forgot I had cancer. My entire worry was my hair and how it was vanishing,” she said.
“It was even dreadful to imagine venturing out in the markets or socializing with friends. I was scared that everyone around would notice my baldness,” she said.
A distant cousin suggested to Jessy that she seek help from Sahrudaya.
“I applied and provided details of my earnings. I was quickly provided with a wig and I began regaining my mental composure after wearing it,” she said.
Jessy has now completed her chemotherapy sessions and she said her health is improving. She said that the wig has helped her lose the anxiety related to her loss of hair and she no longer requires antidepressants.
“Now things are different,” Jessy added.
Caritas India Director Father Paul Moonjely said that about 500 people have donated their hair to the project.
One of them was 13-year-old Diya who was encouraged by her parents after she expressed a wish to help cancer sufferers.
“I’m too young to donate my blood, but this is something that I can offer, and I’m glad to do it,” Diya said.
Father Paul said it is inspiring to see people, especially the young, thinking of others and donating their hair to the project.
“The cost of a wig is around Rs. 15,000 (US$ 200) which is an additional burden for cancer patients due to their financial problems,” Father Paul said. “It is a unique initiative that goes a long way in making the lives of cancer patients better,” he said.