You know how a lot of people have a bucket list? It's usually stuff like going to Greece, climbing Mount Everest or something cool like that. Mine was to go bald and donate my hair for cancer.
It started many years ago (I can't remember how long ago exactly) when there was a 'go bald for cancer awareness' campaign, and I remember thinking what a cool way it was to get people talking about cancer.
Another reason I wanted to do it was probably because of 'America's Next Top Model'. Some of the models in the reality show had to go bald during makeover sessions, and despite the drama, they ended up looking pretty hot.
Now, I didn't expect to look as good as those models but figured I should try it anyway and do something good in the process. (Note: You don't really have to go bald if you want to donate your hair but we'll get into that later)
So, when my sister, who has been hearing about my plans for years, shared a post by 'Clean Thaipusam', a group of volunteers who tried their best to keep the temple areas where Thaipusam was happening, calling for people to donate their hair, I jumped at the chance despite not being a Hindu or in any way religious.
This very tiny gesture on my part taught me a lot, so I quite reluctantly agreed to give up my privacy and write this article, hoping that my lessons will benefit others too.
You will get a lot of attention
To be honest, the attention such a drastic hairstyle change garners is why it took me so long to finally take the leap.
As an introvert, I hate being in the limelight despite a tiny part of the reasons I wanted to go bald was for the notice it will get and the conversations that it will start.
This experience taught me that some things are bigger than you and a little discomfort is a small price to pay.
You rarely see girls and women sporting a bald hairstyle, so naturally everyone in my office, gym and even restaurants - including the ones I've never spoken to before - started asking about why I did it, and just the mention of 'cancer awareness' got people talking, even if it weren't in-depth discussions on the disease.
It became a reminder that cancer exists and maybe we should be more aware of its prevalence.
It starts conversations
I probably spoke to more acquaintances and stranger in the past week than I did in the last six months and it was a good thing.
The conversations with friends and family were also equally important because it often included a deeper discussion about cancer.
Considering that cancer is the second biggest killer in Malaysia because it often goes undetected until stage three and four, it is quite worrying how little we speak about the disease daily.
About 60 per cent of cancer cases in the country are detected too late because we don't pay enough attention to the symptoms and lack the awareness to go for screenings.
The Big C doesn't have to be a death sentence. Pay more attention to your body and the changes in them. Don't forget to check with your doctors when you should start going for regular screenings for early detection. .
There are more people around you with cancer than you realised
Having written many articles on cancer over the years, I was quite aware of the statistics.
According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, there were 43, 837 new cancer cases in 2018, and 26, 395 deaths in the same year.
The most common types of cancer among women were breast (32.7 %), colorectum (12%), cervix uteri (7.2%), ovary (5.5%) and lung (5.4%).
Among men, the list goes like this: lung (16.6%), colorectum (16.2%), prostate (8.8%), nasopharynx (7.8%) and liver (7.1%).
Numbers are, of course, essential when dealing with diseases such as cancer. But the problem with them is that it is so cold and impersonal.
In the past week, I learnt about so many people around me having cancer, surviving cancer, having close friends and family who has cancer and even those who have died of it.
It reminded me of something GRIM films founder and director Jared Lee said when I interviewed him about his experience with the scary disease for an article on Movember.
He said that having cancer sort of opened doors to a secret 'cancer club' where people he never knew had cancer started sharing about their experiences with him.
Similarly, people seemed more comfortable speaking to me about their own experiences after my small gesture of solidarity. As honoured as I am about this, I also have to say that we have to start speaking more and spread awareness so more people can learn from the conversation.
Get yourself checked
I can't stress this enough. Early detection is the key to surviving cancer, and we have to be diligent.
Go for screenings whenever necessary (that is if you're at the age where the risk is higher, have a family history of cancer or notice differences in your body) and conduct self-checks whenever possible.
We can't share information on all the different types of cancers out there in one article, but here's how you can check for breast cancer at home and signs to look out for to detect colorectum cancer:
A small gesture from you could make a big impact on people
Considering that my decision to go bald was mostly selfish, it was really humbling to realise how much it meant to some people.
A colleague who is going through cancer treatment took a picture with me and shared it on her social media, several people mentioned how touched they were because they have directly felt the effects of the disease and many remarked about how 'brave' it was for me to do it.
You know what's brave? People who live with the disease with a smile; whether it's them going through it or those close to them.
If a simple act of voluntarily donating hair to make wigs for someone who has no choice in the matter and going bald to create awareness could help, it is a small sacrifice to make.
You can donate your hair all year round
This is really a no-brainer, but I figured it is a good time to share with those who wish to donate their hair on ways to do it.
You can either keep a lookout for events where hair donation drives are done, or simply go to a hairdresser, get your ponytails cut, seal them in a plastic bag, fill in this form, and mail it to Locks of Hope.
You can also just walk in to any of the salons Locks of Hope work with and get your hair cut there. You can find the list here.
The length of the hair you're donating has to be a minimum of six inches; it can be dyed or permed but not damaged (you'll have to wait for about six months before donating).
Besides donating your hair, you can also donate money to Locks of Hope. One wig costs a little over RM800 to make, and every ringgit you contribute helps.
For more information, you can contact Locks of Hope at email@example.com or their Facebook.