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Kindest cut

MIAMI -- After three years of letting my hair grow -- first to my shoulders, then down my back -- I was sitting in a stylist's chair with a sharp pair of scissors at my neck.

MIAMI -- After three years of letting my hair grow -- first to my shoulders, then down my back -- I was sitting in a stylist's chair with a sharp pair of scissors at my neck.

The only thing keeping me there was knowing that my 12-inch ponytail would soon become part of a wig for a woman undergoing chemotherapy.

Hair donations aren't a new idea, especially in South Florida.

Locks of Love, a Palm Beach, Fla., based charity that provides wigs for children, started accepting ponytails more than a decade ago, drawing donations from thousands of young girls.

But five years ago, the hair-care company Pantene started Beautiful Lengths. The goal: to make hairpieces for adult women who have lost their hair during chemotherapy. The program -- the only of its kind nationwide -- needs about six donations to make each wig.

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As the word got out, the ponytails came in. In South Florida alone, more than 500 people -- most of them adult women -- have sent ponytails to Wisconsin-based Beautiful Lengths, a company spokeswoman says.

"It's a very simple way to make a difference," said Angela Bracci, 34, a Miami-Dade teacher who donated a foot of hair last year. "What's chopping your hair every other summer?"

Lesley Clark-Loeser, 36, a Hollywood dermatologist, says she was inspired to send in her 10-inch ponytail by a friend who survived breast cancer.

"It was empowering," Clark-Loeser says. "The fact that you are able to potentially impact somebody's life -- that's incredible."

Making the cut

I decided to make the cut in December 2007, when my mother was diagnosed with soft tissue cancer.

I came across Beautiful Lengths in a Google search. I remember reading the requirements:

Longish hair? Check.

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Not too much gray? Check.

Not artificially colored? Check.

I would still need another eight inches before I could donate, which required keeping my hair in top shape. I couldn't color or style it with layers. And I had to protect my hair from the damage I inflicted daily with my flat iron and blow dryer. After I had at least enough to donate, I would put my hair in a ponytail, have it cut off, then mail it to Beautiful Lengths.

As the months passed, I grew attached to my long locks -- even though it took more than an hour to style my hair each morning. (On some days, I was tempted to cut it off myself.)

Surprisingly, I was apprehensive before making the big cut.

It's a common concern among donors. As women, we tend to be particular about our hair. Some of us spend hours on it -- and hundreds of dollars coloring, cutting and curling it.

Amy Weltzer, 24, a nursing student from Sunrise, Fla., didn't tell her friends about her plans to donate her long hair because she didn't want to be talked out of it.

"My mom went with me, just to make sure I didn't run out," she recalls, laughing.

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But Weltzer enjoyed the experience so much that she donated her hair again this past November. Her mother decided to donate, too.

Mariela Matamala, 39, a school counselor in Southwest Miami-Dade, says her students were stunned when she donated her curly, red locks.

"They wanted to know why in the world I had cut my hair," Matamala says. "It was a learning experience for them. They could not fathom that cancer patients lose their hair because of their illness."

My mother, who is now cancer free, thankfully did not have to undergo the chemotherapy that causes hair loss. But so many others do.

On the morning of my hair appointment, I stopped by Walgreens for a ruler, rubber bands, a Cuban coffee and a copy of Short Hair Magazine.

Then, it was off to Trini in Private, a new salon and spa in downtown Miami. By the time I arrived, I had picked out a chin-length bob a la Katie Holmes.

I handed the ruler to stylist Juliette Dumarcy, who measured 12 inches and put the rubber bands in place.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" she asked jokingly.

I nodded.

The snip-snip-snipping began.

Within moments, the entire salon was clapping. "Bravo!" shouted one stylist, while washing another client's hair.

When Juliette handed me the ponytail, I was at a loss for words. I wasn't expecting to see so much hair. And I certainly wasn't expecting it to be so healthy and shiny.

Oh no, I thought to myself. What in the world did I do?

But when Juliette handed me a small mirror, I liked what I saw.

I shook my head back and forth, feeling the breeze against my neck. It felt good. In more ways than one.

To learn more about donating your hair to cancer patients, go to beautifullengths.com.

Related Topics: HEALTH
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