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Lending hair to a cause

Updated: Sep 9, 2022

After successfully defeating breast cancer, Premi Mathew is spreading awareness around its early detection and works with organisations to provide free wigs to cancer patients.

Pain teaches you the greatest lessons in life. Who better than Premi Mathew would know? In 2010, she developed a little lump in her breast, which was diagnosed as breast cancer. She went through chemotherapy sessions and was able to defeat cancer within six months. Though she was cancer-free, she also ended up losing her hair. This taught her an important lesson that early detection gave her a new lease of life. It also persuaded her to start ‘Protect Your Mom’ campaign to create awareness around breast cancer and its early diagnosis.

“The idea to start the campaign was to spread the message that early detection of cancer can give women a new lease of life. Many women ignore their health, despite their symptoms. That’s why breast cancer impacts one in eight women,” she says.

Since 2010, she has conducted several such campaigns across India. But she insists that creating awareness about this subject isn’t a cakewalk. “In India, people don’t want to talk about breast cancer because breasts are considered a taboo subject,” she says.

Beauty with a purpose: A donor shares her hair strands that she donated for the cause. (Courtesy: Hair For Hope India)

This also impacted her to react out to several families. So, she instead involved youth to spread the awareness about the disease. “Youth are free from prejudices while talking about breast cancer. We have been doing these campaigns with young people who educate and persuade others to check for early signs of cancer in their mothers. They do it via dance, songs, kits, etc.,” she shares.

Besides raising awareness, she also provides free wigs to cancer patients. She stumbled upon this idea after she visited her six-year-old nephew in the US, who was growing his hair to donate it. “In the US, it is common for people to donate their hair for cancer. I was inspired by the idea and decided to do bring this concept in India,” she asserts.

In 2013, Premi formally launched ‘Hair For Hope India’ campaign that allows people to donate their hair and creates awareness about hair donation. However, the campaign didn’t pick up when it was started.

Ten years ago, it was difficult to persuade people to donate their hair as no one knew about hair donation. Among women, long hair is considered to be a sign of beauty. But now, people are open to the idea. In fact, we get people from three to seventy years of age who are willing to donate hair,” she shares.

Sunita displays the wig made with her daughter's hair. (Courtesy: Hair For Hope India)

So what kind of hair can people donate? “We accept minimum 12 inches (31 cms) of hair. Hair could be gray, treated, coloured (only natural colours, not green, purple, etc.) and streaked. It is also important for donors to send only clean and dry hair. Other guidelines are given in the . I would like to urge every child to join the campaign,” she clarifies.

Initially she was also involved in making wigs on her own. But as she panned out the campaign of creating breast cancer awareness, she involved organisations who donate these wigs to chemotherapy patients.

“These two organisations have a massive network. They are directly in touch with patients so it becomes easy for them to connect. Money is not involved during the entire process, from donating hair to making and sending wigs. We are an NGO who is working towards creating awareness about breast cancer, without raising any money,” she explains.

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