Yokota women and girls clip their hair for a cause
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — About a dozen women and girls stepped onto a platform at the Yokota Community Center three at a time, their long, flowing hair bundled together in a ponytail and measured. Then, with onlookers gathered in the lobby, their beautiful, healthy locks were cut.
Hardly a game of truth or dare, the public display was for a worthy cause.
As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Yokota Enlisted Spouses Club and the Air Force and Army Exchange Service teamed up Saturday to stage a “Locks of Love” drive. Twelve Yokota females donated at least 10 inches of their hair — the minimum required by the national nonprofit organization — which will be used to help make wigs for needy cancer survivors.
According to the group’s Web site at www.locksoflove.org, the custom hairpieces donated to people suffering from long-term medical hair loss start at $3,000 retail.
Kristie Drown, president of the Yokota Enlisted Spouses Club, acted as a celebrity cutter along with Flishia Bailey, the Yokota Exchange’s general manager, and Maj. Sheila Thornton of the base’s Health and Wellness Center, a breast cancer survivor and former Locks of Love recipient.
Thornton, diagnosed in 1998, is a staunch advocate who speaks regularly about the disease and takes part in functions to promote awareness, according to her husband, Thefety. In 2002, she completed a three-day, 60-mile walk in Dallas.
“Every time something is held, she’s always there,” he said.
When she lost her hair during chemotherapy treatment, Thefety Thornton said, he decided to shave his hair off for eight months in a show of unity.
“I’ve learned a lot about breast cancer within the last seven years,” he added. “Few people know, but men get it also. It’s not just a female thing. Kids can, too. There was a 3-year-old girl walking in Dallas.
“It’s a touching situation, but this is something you can find out in the early stages and survive from it.”
Drown said Saturday’s event was inspired by a family that lived on base and had a son with leukemia. They’re now in Hawaii, where he’s doing well, she added.
“I’m amazed by how many girls signed up, some in high school,” Drown said. “At that age, they’re sometimes at the height of their vanity. But they’re stepping up.”
Among them were her three daughters — Ashley, 11, Alyssa, 7, and Allison, 5. Drown, husband Jason and son Dakota performed shearing duties.
But the day’s final charitable act induced a mixture of emotions in mom, who fought a few tears. Allison shed more than 20 inches, while Ashley and Alyssa lost about 16 inches each.
“My girls have always had long hair,” Drown said. “They were born with lots of hair and always had lots of hair. It was just a little shock to me.
“My dad had a touch of cancer and Jason’s mom died of cancer. He grew up watching her battle chemotherapy and losing her hair. Now he’s come full circle. His daughters donated their hair to help people like his mother.”
Rebecca McCool, a Yokota dependent, offered up 11 inches of her hair to the effort.
“I thought it would be a cool thing to do,” she said. “I needed a haircut. Figured it would be a good donation.
“It’s really short, but I’m happy about contributing. My grandma died of breast cancer. This is a really great thing.”
The Yokota locks were wrapped in tissue paper and placed in a box being mailed to the charity. Each bundle was tagged with an index card carrying the name and address of the donor, along with personal messages.
“My grandma died of leukemia and she needed hair,” wrote 10-year-old Hannah Collier, a fifth-grader at Yokota West Elementary School, “so I decided … to donate to Locks of Love.”