Nonprofit offers support in face of cancer-related hair loss

Hair Matters, a nonprofit service for cancer patients located in South Portland, has frequent hair donation events in Southern Maine. People can see updates at hairmatters2me.org. Courtesy photo.

SOUTH PORTLAND — After six years of providing support to cancer treatment recipients experiencing hair loss, Hair Matters owner Debby Porter said the organization, based in South Portland, needs expansion in order to continue.

After recovering from a cancer diagnosis she received in 2012, Porter began Hair Matters. The nonprofit helps clients receiving cancer treatments understand what their options are regarding hair loss and what they can expect.

“Doctors are doing everything they can to help fight back against a cancer diagnosis medically, but this is an important piece of cancer care that was not really being provided,” Porter said. “We help with whatever solutions a person might want and need. We’re there from diagnosis all the way through to the end of treatment to support and give resources to people going through hair loss because of cancer treatments.”

Porter has reached capacity, she said. Although Hair Matters collects hair donations, the nonprofit has not yet started manufacturing wigs, but Porter is hoping to raise funds to expand services into a Gorham location, where she can continue with more help.

“We’re really pushing to get the fundraising together to expand, because the truth is that I’ve been doing this pretty much on my own at no cost to my clients for six years now, and I’ve reached my capacity,” she said. “Unless I have more space and I have more help, it’s likely we may need to close our doors, which we definitely don’t want to do. There’s more and more need every day. I get clients almost every day looking for our help, and I don’t want to turn them away.”

Hair Matters is encouraging people to get involved, Porter said.

“We’re looking for people to get involved in whatever way they can and we’re doing a big outreach to creative types and also to corporations and social media influencers to get the word out,” she said. “If people feel this is a valuable resource, I just encourage everybody to get involved and find out where their passions and their time and energy are.”

For many facing cancer, hair loss can be a confusing experience to navigate, Porter said.

“I know that when I was diagnosed, I was lost,” she said. “I didn’t know how to handle hair loss or how to help myself. Being a hairdresser, I felt really embarrassed or ashamed because of what I didn’t know, and I thought, if I was in the industry and I didn’t even know how to help myself, how would people who knew even less about cosmetology be able to do it?”

Hair Matters works with anyone with a cancer diagnosis who is likely to lose hair from treatments. The organization takes referrals from anyone.

“We provide an initial consultation where we talk over what they’ve been through so far and develop a plan to help support the person through hair loss,” Porter said. “We talk to them about what they can expect and how it may feel and some ideas and resources for soothing the discomfort but also how they would like to move through treatment once they’ve lost their hair, whether it’s a wig or hats and scarves or nothing at all. They might want to rock the bald and that’s fine, too, so it’s really about meeting a person where they are.”

She added, “We encourage them to bring in family and friends so they can learn more about what they can expect and how best to support their loved ones. We’re on standby as their hair comes in and we can shape it and style it and we can celebrate when they get through to the other side and just help minimize fear and isolation caused by hair loss.”

During the pandemic, more men have been donating hair, Porter said. This has been heart-warming to see, but the pandemic has caused problems for cancer patients, too.

“Cancer continues and access to treatment has changed and in some ways has made it harder and has increased the isolation of people going through treatment,” Porter said. “They’re already isolated but not being able to be around loved ones is an added pressure that’s come on because of COVID and it’s very, very difficult. I think it’s having an effect on people’s mental health for sure and that impacts their physical health. We need to give people the support they need right now and the COVID does restrict that.”

People are welcome to contact Porter and Hair Matters at 216-1016 or email [email protected] For more information, visit hairmatters2me.org.

“I really urge people to get on the website and look around,” Porter said.

People interested in donating hair can learn how at hairmatters2me.org/get-involved.

“We keep all the hair locally,” Porter said. “We don’t sell it, and we’ll be manufacturing with it for local people with local hair.”

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