When Johnny Rhodes learned that his friend’s wife was diagnosed with cancer, he decided to show his support for the couple by growing his hair long for Locks of Love.
“One of my daughters donated her hair to Locks of Love a few years ago, and I just thought it was a really nice program,” said Rhodes.
Locks of Love is a public non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children younger than age 21 suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis, such as cancer.
The 41-year-old from Rockingham didn’t know if his hair would even grow very long at his age.
“I kept my hair cut military short for so long, it was really tough getting used to my hair growing out — especially the first couple of years when I couldn’t do much with it to keep it out of my face,” he said.
As he was growing out his hair to donate to children with cancer, he was diagnosed with the disease himself.
“In December of last year I was diagnosed with throat cancer,” he said.
He considers himself lucky, because the cancer was caught in the earliest stage and he was able to be treated with surgeries instead of chemotherapy and radiation.
“When I was being treated in the hospital, I saw several children who were being treated for cancer and who had no hair,” he said. “There I was sitting in the hospital with my long pony tail, but they were bald. That experience really made this donation even more special to me.”
He continued to grow his hair out until recently, when he had it all chopped off for his donation.
“He donated 17 inches of hair to Locks of Love,” said his wife Marsha.
Rhodes said he’d grown accustomed to having long hair by that point, so chopping it all off was a bit unnerving.
“We went to Disney World soon after that, and I saw two children there — one was bald and the other had a hairpiece,” he said. “I told my wife they were the reason the whole experience was worth it.”
There was more to “the experience” than Rhodes had bargained for when he started the project.
“I got a lot of grief from people about growing my hair long,” he said. “It’s not socially acceptable for a man to have long hair. I could tell people judged me, and gave me funny looks — like I might have been a criminal or something.”
Rhodes said dealing with the judgement was frustrating, but that it pushed him to be even more determined to grow his hair long.
“It’s wrong to judge people because of the way they look,” he said.
— Staff Writer Kelli Easterling can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 18, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Guidelines for acceptable donations to Locks of Love
• Hair that is colored or permed is acceptable.
• Hair cut years ago is usable if it has been stored in a ponytail or braid.
• Hair that has been bleached (usually this refers to highlighted hair) is not usable. If unsure, ask your stylist. The organization is not able to accept bleached hair due to a chemical reaction that occurs during the manufacturing process. (If the hair was bleached years ago and has completely grown out it is fine to donate.)
• Colored hair is not usable if it is colored over bleached hair.
• Hair that is swept off of the floor is not usable because it is not bundled in a ponytail or braid.
• Hair that is shaved off and not in a ponytail or braid is not usable. If shaving your head, first divide hair into multiple ponytails to cut off.
• The organization cannot accept dreadlocks. The manufacturer of hairpieces is not able to use them for the children.
• Layered hair is acceptable if the longest layer is 10 inches.
• Layered hair may be divided into multiple ponytails.
• Curly hair may be pulled straight to measure the minimum 10 inches.
• 10 inches measured tip to tip is the minimum length needed for a hairpiece.
• Shorter hair and gray hair will be accepted and sold to offset manufacturing costs. Although it cannot be used in the hairpieces, it still helps greatly.
• Because Locks of Love creates custom hairpieces for each child, it is unable to accept donations of wigs, falls, hair extensions or synthetic hair.
• The Hair Donation Form is not required to donate hair. If you are having trouble downloading or printing the Hair Donation Form, just write down your name and address on a full size separate sheet of paper and include it in the envelope with your donation so that an acknowledgement can be sent to you.
All hair donations must be mailed to Locks of Love at: 234 Southern Blvd., West Palm Beach, FL 33405-2701.
For more information, visit locksoflove.org.