Alarna Kench, 30, has always had long, lovely hair. Two weeks ago, she had almost all of it cut off. She was "incredibly anxious" about the big chop, but she did it for an important cause, donating her locks as part of the Beautiful Lengths initiative.
The Look Good, Feel Better and Pantene campaign launched across Australia last week, aimed at encouraging women to grow, cut and donate 20 centimetres of their hair to be turned into wigs for women undergoing cancer treatment.
Once the hair is cut, donors post it to the wig-makers. Wigs are then made and given, free of charge, to cancer patients.
"It was such a big change and I felt so emotionally attached to my hair and scared about how I might look with short hair," said Ms Kench. "Going through this gave me a really small insight into the rollercoaster of emotions a woman with cancer might have about losing her hair. I, at least, had a choice in the matter."
Hair loss is a major concern for cancer sufferers.
"Anecdotally... the first question [cancer-sufferers ask is] 'am I going to die' and the second question is 'will I lose my hair?'," said Sally Harrold of Look Good, Feel Better. "The impact on self-esteem and confidence can be debilitating."
Sinead Forbes, 40, knows all about the disease's impact. Three months after being diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, she began treatment and within three weeks, her hair was falling out.
The last thing she wanted was for people to look at her with sad eyes and sympathy."I just wanted to be as normal as possible in a very abnormal situation," she said.Dealing with balding was "just another kick in the guts. Hair is something so simple that we take for granted."
She began wearing a wig.
As real hair wigs are often prohibitively expensive, she bought a synthetic and looked, she said, like a "clown". The acrylic would frizz when she cooked, yet putting it on was the first thing she would do when she woke up in the morning. "I was happy when I had my wig on," she says. Her three young children were too. In fact they wouldn't let her leave home without it. On one occasion, as she raced to pick up the kids from school, she forgot to put it on. "Mum!" they cried. "You didn't put your hair on."
School teacher Emily Parlett, 32, also settled on a synthetic wig when undergoing treatment for cancer. "Kids don't hold back," she said. Her students would say 'I think you need to pull it to the side' or '[your hair] is standing up'.
Self-conscious as Emily was about her appearance in public, she was given a poignant show of support: her sister shaved off every inch of her "beautiful, long, blonde hair" and wore a wig for the duration of Ms Parlett's treatment.
It was a big gesture of love that many other Australian women are also willing to give.A survey, for the campaign, of more than 1000 women revealed 90 per cent would be prepared to cut and donate their hair to help a friend with cancer. This is significant given more than half of Australian women will either suffer cancer or have a female friend or family member affected by the disease.
The hair donation campaign is a success in the US, where it has run since 2006; more than 311,000 ponytails have been donated to create 24,000 real-hair wigs.
Campaign organisers are asking Australian women to help break that record.
Sinead hopes they will too. "It's a fabulous opportunity to make a difference to someone who's going through cancer treatment," she says. "It makes getting out there so much easier."
She has now been in remission for three years. While she kept wearing her wig while her hair was growing back because "I looked like a wildebeest" having her own hair again is a reminder of how far she's come. "I feel great... I mark every milestone."
For her part, Alarna says: "I love my hair now. The whole process of being involved with Beautiful Lengths has been really rewarding and at the end of the day my hair will grow back so there was no real excuse for not doing it."
For more information about the campaign, go to: www.beautifullengths.com.au