One Small Gift Can Be Life Changing

Local Woman Makes a Difference for Those Battling Cancer 

Donna England

The Ashland Beacon


   More devastating than hearing the words, you have breast cancer, are the words, due to the stage of the life-threatening disease, we are going to have to remove both of your breasts. For some, the removal of ones’ breasts is like an attack on her womanhood. The anxiety over silently asking themselves will my husband; my partner still find me desirable, still want me, can be unbearable.

   But to add insult to the injury of this evil monster internally eating away the body, comes the loss of hair. Hair loss as the result of the rounds of chemotherapy women undergoes to save their very life.

   Some choose to boldly shave their heads before the loss begins, refusing to allow the disease to take their hair, too. Others quietly suffer the indignity by hiding their baldness under scarves and head wraps.

   But one local woman decided to take a stand to help those and to give them back their sense of pride and dignity with a full head of hair in the form of a free natural hair wig.

   Shelia Ingram England, of Ashland, said she became inspired to grow out her hair to donate when she was at the Houston, TX M.D. Anderson Cancer Center when her husband, Scott, was himself battling cancer.

   “The Anderson Center is the number one treatment facility in the world and when we were there for Scott’s surgery and treatment, I saw women from all over the world wearing scarves around their heads,” she said. “I felt so badly for them. Can you imagine losing all of your hair, if right now all of your hair was gone?”

   England wanted to do something, so after returning to Kentucky, she got on the internet and started researching. She wanted to be sure that whatever company or organization she donated her hair to would offer free wigs for women suffering from hair loss as a result of cancer.

   “I found a couple, but then I found out they charged the women for the wigs. Some gave free wigs to children but didn’t do that for adults,” she explained.

   She found one she felt comfortable with, contacted them and received the instructions and guidelines she had to follow for her hair to be acceptable for use by cancer patients.

   “There were a lot of requirements. You could not chemically process or color your hair was the biggest. It had to be pure and naturally grown,” she explained. And then the three-year-long process to grow out her hair to the acceptable length began.

   But it wasn’t just her time at the Anderson Center that inspired her. It was suspected that her grandmother had breast cancer that had spread at the time of her death. “My grandmother, Katherine Gilbert, most likely had breast cancer that eventually caused her death. She never confirmed it because at 80 years old, she decided to have no tests and no invention or treatment. She just wanted Hospice to help her go peacefully,” England recalled.

   England herself had a scare about 10 years ago when she had her first mammogram at the age of 40. “My very first screening came back abnormal. I was in shock. It took over a month, several tests and biopsies to finally get the all-clear. “It was hard going through that for over a month and not knowing. But thankfully, it was benign. There are so many women who get much worse news.”

   Like many, England relied heavily on her faith and prayer to get her through that difficult time. But it was seeing hundreds of women every day in scarf draped heads that she decided she had to do something, anything to help.

   As a machine quilt operator at her mother’s small business, Ingram’s Fabrics in South Point, she and her mother were already involved in making and donating quilts for Hospice. But England thought donating her hair to make a wig free for a female cancer patient somewhere was the right thing to do.

   “It was just a simple thing I could do. How meaningful a gift like that would be for someone who is going through so much.”

   England is also very outspoken about the importance of yearly screenings. “It is so important that women take the time to get their annual mammogram. It could be the difference between life and death.”

   After three long years of growing her hair out, and as women here know, the battle with this Kentucky humidity on the hair is not an easy one, England went to her hairdresser in South Point, Tonyia Ward of Tonyia’s Steel Magnolias Salon, and had her long ponytail cut off in one swoop. She said it was Tonyia who helped her with mailing it in and make sure it was done properly.

   England hopes she can inspire other women to do the same, even if it is just a one-time donation. The hair will always grow back, but for a woman who is battling breast cancer, that act of kindness can give her a sense of renewed confidence and dignity at a time it is most needed.

   Though the company England used at the time no longer accepts hair donations, she suggested to others: Locks of Love and Hair We Share, which can both be found on the internet.