A few years ago, APW began partnering with Pantene Beautiful Lengths, an organization that creates free, real-hair wigs for women who have lost their hair due to cancer treatment. We figured if you’re going to be cutting your hair after your wedding, it might as well go to a good cause. To date (and with y’alls help), Beautiful Lengths have created more than 46,000 wigs. This year Pantene is partnering with Walgreens for the month of October to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Pantene Beautiful Lengths program, and Walgreens will be donating $50,000 to the Pantene Beautiful Lengths Fund as part of their partnership—all of which will go directly to creating even more wigs. (If you’d like to make your own donation, you can do that right here.)
Many APW readers have donated their time, money, and hair to the Beautiful Lengths program, and last year we were able to facilitate a wig donation to APW reader Bethany, who had begun undergoing cancer treatment shortly before her wedding (and came looking for ideas for headpieces in the comments of Happy Hour). When we reached out to see if she’d like to share a follow-up, this is what she wrote:
In 2015, shortly before my wedding, I was diagnosed with uterine cancer. By the time my wedding rolled around, I had gone through three surgeries in as many months. My abdomen had an upside-down cross of healing surgical scars, and the surgeries had caused my belly to swell so my wedding dress no longer fit (but a quick order from ModCloth took care of that). My hair, however, was another matter—I was on track to have gone through a full cycle of chemo by my wedding day. Based on the drugs I was given, it was likely I would have no hair by the time I got to the altar.
I posted on an APW Happy Hour looking for advice, and I ended up with a beautiful vintage-inspired veil made by a friend who used to make wedding toppers, but now makes amazing bags in DC for her shop Stitch and Rivet. Her veil would not only cover any thinning spots, but if all my hair came out, it would work well over a wig.
A little Bit of Normal
I still remember my astonishment when Maddie contacted me to say that Pantene Beautiful Lengths would send me a wig. When it arrived, it matched my color perfectly, and was a style I loved.
My hair fell out at the hotel after the reception. It was good timing—I was so full of love and joy from the wedding that I actually didn’t cry at seeing my hair come out. I wore my wig to the B&B where my husband and I were staying for two nights, which meant I didn’t feel self-conscious walking into the B&B or going out to dinner in the small town. I didn’t look like a cancer patient. I looked like a newlywed.
The wig helped when I went back to work and needed to look and feel professional and in control. It especially helped when we attended the wedding of two friends a month later. When I look at the photobooth pictures, I see someone who looks happy and normal, not someone sick or to be pitied.
I finished chemo on December 10. Recovery was hard, and despite my doctors’ warnings, took longer than I had personally expected. I slept a lot and had to relearn how to walk normally. I did light yoga with an instructor so I could start to understand how to use my body again.
cancer didn’t just bring bad things
Cancer didn’t bring only bad things. For one, it meant I saw my parents a lot more than normal. Not only did my dad come down to drive me to chemo more than once, he’d also sit and watch Doctor Who with me and then quietly do dishes.
My hair started to grow back in February, and I began sometimes leaving it completely uncovered in public. It was hard, though, and was not something I did all the time. My parents were in DC over Valentine’s weekend due to a conference my mom was attending, and they came back for my husband’s consecration to the ELCA diaconate before an Easter visit to DC to see The Who in concert with my sister (her father-daughter song was “Baba O’Riley”). I got to travel home to Cleveland in April for the first time since cancer hit. It was the last time I saw my dad.
When the hits just keep coming
On May 15, my mom was visiting for a Below the Belt cancer walk to support the gynecologic cancer center at Johns Hopkins. That same morning my dad had a massive and unexpected heart attack and passed away. He was 61 and in great health, with weekly tennis games and regular workouts and hikes.
My husband’s love kept me going during those early awful weeks of grief. My sister and I comforted each other with reminders that Dad had obviously loved our husbands and was glad we had partners who loved us and believed in our dreams, the way he believed in Mom’s dreams.
After returning from a week with my mom, helping to go through a few of my dad’s many boxes, I got a call asking me to get an extra scan in July as a follow-up to my original six-month scan. The new scan showed that I had another tumor and they needed to remove it. The new tumor and surgery meant that our first anniversary didn’t even get a day trip somewhere. I worked up the energy to go outside with husband and hobble half a block before I had to sit on some planters and catch my breath. We still took anniversary photos. It was a sunny day, so I had my wedding parasol with me, and we included it in the selfies we took as we found reasons to laugh. This year, more than any other, taught us to treasure any excuse for laughter and joy, because you don’t know how long the opportunity will last.
there’s always something good just around the corner
Our first year of marriage has been one of the hardest years of my life. I am grateful to have my husband by my side, living out the vows we made to each other to love and care for one another. I am also grateful that we didn’t push off the wedding last year as was suggested to us. We wanted to say Fuck You to cancer and possible death. We wanted to show that we believed and hoped for better days, and that being together was how we would find those better days. Because of that, my dad was able to walk me down the aisle with my mom, and see me married to a man he knew would love me as deeply as he loved my mom.
There are times, looking back at the past year and a half, when all I see is the struggle and pain. But then I remember how the past year and a half also had joy, and reminded me of how much good there is in the world. My dad always said he believed there was something good around the corner, and that, just often enough to keep him going, there was. That was the past year and a half for me.
I was kept going because of the kindness around corners. From the kindness of everyone who donated hair; then APW and Pantene Beautiful Lengths for sending me the wig; my friends completing pre-wedding tasks while I was recovering or in chemo; our photographer doing an impromptu engagement session the Sunday before I started chemo (and insisting that it was a favor to her when I struggled to accept the gift); my dad being calm and patient when I froze up and couldn’t walk into chemo one day, or walking me to buy supplies for Halloween (my favorite holiday) and supporting me every time I started to fall while walking; local Twitter friends who saved me a spot to watch the nearby Thanksgiving parade from a folding chair; friends who brought their beagles over for “beagle therapy” cuddles; friends who picked up groceries, paid for maids, carried boxes, drove me to chemo, wrote cards, and delivered meals; and strangers who gave me their seats when I stumbled with my cane, held doors longer than normal, and shared their own stories.
When my dad died, there was somehow still more kindness. People I barely knew reached out to tell me what my dad had meant to them, how my dad had influenced or inspired them, how he’d spoken of his kids with pride and joy, how he’d never lost hope that I would beat my cancer, and how he would never be forgotten. I even received a kind note from Johns Hopkins letting me know that in his final weeks, my dad had donated to help other women who might be going through what I had.
In the hardest year of my life, I’ve had not only my amazing husband holding me up, but the kindness of friends and strangers keeping me going. I start radiation tomorrow. It’ll be five days a week for six weeks in Baltimore, an hour each way from home. I’m scared of the side effects and whether we’ll find enough help to get through it. Despite that fear, I’m also certain that just around the corner, there will be enough kindness to keep me going.
Want to get Involved with Pantene Beautiful Lengths?
If you’d like to join us in supporting Pantene Beautiful Lengths, there are lots of ways to get involved (even if you can’t donate your hair). The first, of course, is with a hair donation:
make the cut
If you were growing out your hair for your wedding, but are no longer beholden to updos now that it’s over, and thinking maybe it’s time to change things up, then consider donating your hair after making the cut! Visit the Pantene Beautiful Lengths tab on Pantene.com to learn more about how you can donate your ponytail. And when you’re done, tell us! Take a picture of your cut and tag @APracticalWedding, and @Pantene on Instagram with the hashtag #BeautifulLengths.
SPONSOR A WIG
If you aren’t eligible to donate your hair (like yours truly), then you can join Walgreens by making a donation to the Pantene Beautiful Lengths Fund (no donation is too small, y’all). Contributions made to the fund go directly to helping create free, real-hair wigs for women battling cancer. (You can also find more information and Pantene products at your local Walgreens.)
SPREAD THE WORD
There’s no such thing as too much press! So if you just want to help get the word out, share your donation, or encourage your friends to participate, then get thee to social media and do just that. Use the hashtag #BeautifulLengths, and don’t forget to tag @Pantene, @Walgreens, and @APracticalWedding, so we can see it too.
This post was sponsored by Pantene Beautiful Lengths. Since 2006, Beautiful Lengths has helped provide over 46,000 real-hair wigs to women fighting cancer. This year Pantene is partnering with Walgreens for the month of October to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Pantene Beautiful Lengths program, and Walgreens will be donating $50,000 to the Pantene Beautiful Lengths Fund as part of their partnership, the proceeds of which will go directly to creating more wigs. If you’d like to get involved, or make a donation of your own, click here. No donation is too small.