What Happens When Pantene Gives You a Wig the Day Before Your Wedding


I can't overstate the power of kindness

by Bethany

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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:

bride and groom kissing at their wedding

Jonna Michelle Photography

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.

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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.

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Jonna Michelle Photography

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.

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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.

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Jonna Michelle Photography

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:

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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.

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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.

Bethany

Bethany is a writer and editor living outside Washington, DC with her husband and beloved cat. She sporadically blogs about life and cancer, reads a lot, tweets, and can’t wait to regain health so she can volunteer again at her local animal shelter. She believes that community and family (whether blood or chosen) are the keys to surviving and finding laughter after tears.

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  • Kaitlyn

    Bethany, I can’t even imagine how hard this has been for you and yet in your essay, you managed to still find the silver lining. You have amazing strength and resilience. Best of luck with the radiation <3

    I'm also glad to find out about Pantene Beautiful Lengths. I have a habit of growing out my hair super long because I hate paying for haircuts and then randomly chopping it all off so I'm definitely going to keep this in mind!

    • Lisa

      I have donated to Pantene twice now and have had a great experience both times! The second time was definitely born out of the habit your mention; I was so ready to cut off my waist-length hair by the time I walked into the salon.

      Pantene also has one of the shortest minimum donation requirements (8″), which is helpful if you’re reluctant to commit to the 12″ that Wigs for Kids requires. (Locks of Love is 10″, but I never recommend them to anyone looking to donate.)

      • Kara

        I’ve donated to Pantene twice now, too :). I too had a great experience. It’s very easy, straightforward. I’ll let my hair grow for about 2.5 years and then donate it to Pantene (normally 11-12 inches).

    • Thank you. I really appreciate that. The doctors seem confident, but luck is always needed.

      That’s wonderful that you’re thinking of donating! Donating your hair will help make some woman feel better about herself at an awful time.

  • Lisa

    Bethany, thank you so much for sharing your story. I remember that first Happy Hour thread where you came for suggestions and eventually ended up with a wig. We all wanted the best for you then and continue to wish you well now. It gives me hope to hear how, even in the worst of times, there can still be some light.

    “There was something else my mother did that I’ve always remembered: ‘Always look for the helpers,’ she’d tell me. ‘There’s always someone who is trying to help.’ I did, and I came to see that the world is full of doctors and nurses, police and firemen, volunteers, neighbors and friends who are ready to jump in to help when things go wrong.” – Fred Rogers

    • I love that Fred Rogers quote. I was amazed at how kind and helpful everyone was when I commented with my question in the Happy Hour thread. It made me feel strong and supported.

  • emmers

    Bethany, thank you for sharing your story. And thanks to APW for facilitating this, and for hooking Bethany up with Pantene Beautiful Lengths! Bethany, one of the things I’ve often thought about you as I’ve followed your story in the comments and in various Happy Hours, is what a gracious person you are. I don’t have a better way to articulate it than that, but whenever I read your comments (and now this piece), I’m always struck by it.

    • Thank you. I’m not always gracious, but I try to be. When my dad heard that there was a new edition of a Miss Manners guide a few Christmases back, he got it for me on Kindle so I’d always have it at my fingertips.

  • H

    Sending hope and good vibes your way! I don’t usually tear up at things I read, but hearing about the outpouring of support you received has got me misty at my desk.

    • Sorry about the misty, but thank you. Hope and good vibes are very appreciated and needed.

  • Laura C

    It’s so lovely to read this. I remember the thread where you asked about headpieces and it’s wonderful to know how it turned out.

  • Cellistec

    Nope, not crying. Just have dust in my eye. I mean both eyes. *snif*

    Uplifting story, Bethany/APW/Pantene. I needed this today, so thank you.

    • I’m glad that it provided something you needed. That means the world to me. Thank you for that.

  • Danielle

    i’m sorry it’s been such a hard year for you. Sending you internet hugs if you want them!
    Also your wedding necklace and parasol are gorgeous!

    • Thank you. Internet hugs are always good!

      The necklace belonged to my great aunt and is opal chips (my birthstone). I’ve always loved it and wanted jewlery that had extra meaning to me. The necklace reminded me of the long line of amazing women I come from. The parsol was just pure fun :)

  • Anon

    Blessings and good wishes to you, Bethany! My dad died suddenly in a tragic accident just before our wedding, and our first year of marriage has been both grief and love. You’ve been dealing with that and more. Wishing you courage, grace, and a tiny bit of solidarity.

    • I’m so sorry that you’re also in this club, but I appreciate the solidarity. *HUG* and good wishes to you as well.

  • Staria

    Bethany, thank you so much for sharing your beautiful wedding story and about your year. This really helped me today. I’m a month out (today!) from my own wedding, and finding it hard not just in terms of the organisation and struggles like close family squabbles and a groom who loves me but not weddings, but also unexpected illness for my mum, insane workload, and my own chronic health conditions. At a couple of different points, when I had to consider doing some things differently to allow for my own health and mum’s and finances, I asked myself, should I have waited longer to set a date (even thought I’d already waited so long to get engaged). We could have saved, I could have had this event here instead of there, blah blah this and that. But there is no perfect time, there is only the right time, and the right time is right now, and I’m so grateful to have everyone with me that I do. And even my wedding-averse partner (who is amazing) has got on board and started saying how excited he is. Bethany, thank you so much xx

    • *HUG* Thank you. I’m grateful I could help. I’ll keep your mum and you in my thoughts. I hope that you’re both feeling good on your wedding day so you can celebrate with total joy.

      You’re right that there is no perfect time. My best wishes to you.

      • Staria

        *HUG* right back!!! you’re so sweet! will remember your kind words xxoo

  • Mandi P

    Yay for wigs! My husband donated his hair to Pantene a couple months after our wedding. People have asked if he wishes he had shorter hair for the wedding. Nope, because at that time, it wouldn’t have been long enough to donate!
    Thanks for sharing your beautiful story.

    • Your husband is a rock star! Please tell him thank you for me.

      And thank you for the compliment, as well. My dad always liked my writing so a chance to share it feels like a chance to live into what he saw in me.

  • NotMotherTheresa

    This was beautiful, Bethany. I wish I had something more profound to say, but I just wanted to let you know how much your story touched me. I’m sending prayers and internet hugs your way!

    • Thank you. That is very kind. I appreciate prayers and internet hugs very much.