Premi Mathew with two young hair donators. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: A Dubai-based cancer survivor is this weekend organising a global online hair donation event to empower cancer patients across the world.

In line with the campaign, a number of donors in the UAE will also donate their locks to the UAE’s Friends of Cancer Patients charity initiative, as part of the hair donation event organised by Premi Mathew, 59, an Indian expatriate and breast cancer survivor.

It is an initiative that Mathew is extremely proud of putting together, given her own brush with breast cancer. She may have beaten the dreaded disease more than a decade ago, but its memories and struggles still remain fresh — enough to spur Mathew on towards helping others.

Early diagnosis

“To be honest, I was lucky because my husband is a surgeon. It isn’t that I was particularly vigilant about my breast self-examinations, but as soon as I found a lump, my husband insisted on a biopsy and it turned out to be cancer,” Mathew told Gulf News.

Premi Mathew at a hair donation event-1658581445359
Premi Mathew with the participants at a hair donation event. Image Credit: Supplied

She was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer and it was a scary diagnosis for Mathew, who was then an instructor in Dubai.

“I had had no pain and had no family history of the disease. But there I was, diagnosed with a scary disease. My husband swung into action and we were able to get urgent appointments for a mastectomy in India. This was followed by six sessions of chemotherapy and hormonal treatment and the entire treatment process took half a year,” Mathew said.

‘Every day matters’

She however said she was lucky in a lot of ways.

“First of all, my lump was not misdiagnosed. Over the years, I’ve come across many women whose lumps are brushed aside by physicians and they eventually get diagnosed when the cancer has already spread. In addition, every day matters when you are dealing with an aggressive cancer. Yet, many women may delay seeing a doctor or can be unable to get specialist appointments quickly. In this way, I was lucky because my cancer was treated without delay,” Mathew recalled.

Helping others

Having been declared cancer-free, Mathew was determined to help other women. She launched the ‘Protect Your Mom’ initiative, which called on schoolchildren to ‘pester’ their mothers into carrying out regular breast exams.

“My daughter, Anjela, was instrumental in starting the ‘Protect Your Mom’ campaign. Cancer is always a big struggle for the patient’s family and we wanted to spread the message that even young children can help protect their mothers from breast cancer,” Mathew said.

Premi Mathew with two boys who previously donated hair-1658581448745
Premi Mathew with two boys who had previously donated hair. Image Credit: Supplied

‘It wrecks your confidence’

The Indian expatriate also started the ‘Hair for Hope India’, an initiative that arranges regular hair donation events for cancer patients in India.

“Losing hair is a devastating part of cancer treatment. Your hair starts falling out in clumps and you end up losing all your locks in just a matter of days. Even though the doctors tell you it isn’t all that bad, you end up not even wanting to look at yourself in the mirror. It wrecks your confidence and this doesn’t really help you fight the cancer either,” Mathew explained.

Empowering women

Getting a wig is an obvious solution, but wigs can set one back quite a bit, especially in light of the cost of cancer treatment. Mathew said that the natural hair wigs that she wanted to get cost at least Dh3,000 even a decade ago. This is why hair donations can go a long way in empowering women taking on breast cancer. “I myself was inspired by my then-eight-year-old nephew, who was visiting me in 2011. He was growing his hair for a cause, even at that young age, and it prompted me to kickstart ‘Hair for Hope India’,” Mathew added.

Premi Mathew with a hair donor ahead of a donation event-1658581446930
Premi Mathew with a donor before a hair donation event. Image Credit: Supplied

Global cut-a-thon

The hair donation event that Mathew is leading on July 24 afternoon will see participants from India, Australia, United States and UAE. It will be streamed live on the ‘Protect Your Mom Asia’ webpage’s Global Cut-a-Thon section. About 300 donors will cut off their tresses and hand them directly to cancer patients, with the support of about 60 NGOs and clubs.

Read more

Nearly 50 expatriates in the UAE will also join them, with the hair donated to UAE’s Friends of Cancer Patients, an organisation that supports cancer patients and their families.

“I am sure we will see a lot of poignant scenes, with patients receiving donated hair. Some donors will even be pre-school children. In addition, cancer survivors will join the streaming to encourage cancer patients,” Mathew said.