June 10, 2021
That night as I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror, I noticed a piece of fuzz in my hair. When I tried to pick it out, 10 to15 strands came out with it but I felt nothing. I knew “this is it.”
I thought I was healthy. There was no family history, no warning. But in 2012 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At that time, I was a self-employed, uninsured hair stylist and single mom with one son serving in Afghanistan and another approaching his high school graduation.
Shock is how I’d best describe what I was feeling. As a hairstylist, I was completely lost as to how I would cope with my hair loss, let alone the fight for my life. If I were being honest, I would have to admit that I was intimidated by people who had lost their hair to cancer. It was such a loud, visible sign of sickness. And it scared me.
I didn’t recognize myself without hair. I felt vulnerable and exposed and my mind would play tricks on me when I’d catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror or window. I thought, “there’s no reason for me to go into the salon now”. In fact, I thought it was probably best if I stayed away. I didn’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable or afraid. I tried to avoid children because I didn’t know how to make it okay for them.
1.7 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer every year and 65% of them will lose their hair.
When I started looking for help, I got “crickets”. There was nowhere to turn. I didn’t understand why this need was largely ignored. As a hairdresser, if I didn’t know how to help myself, how would people who were not in the industry feel?
In 2014, about 2 years after the end of my treatment, I was given a tour of our local cancer community center. I was shown a room with wigs, scarves and hats stuffed in drawers and closets. My tour guide said that it was a shame they didn’t know what to do with these valuable items. Since I was returning to work at the salon, I said that I would take a few things and see if I could get them to people who needed them. That’s how Hair Matters was born.
I wanted to create the kind of help I wish I had at the time. To make a safe space to provide hair loss solutions, yes. But also, to usher everyone personally impacted through the fear and isolation by helping to restore identity, vitality and hope. And to help financially because a cancer diagnosis can bring overwhelming financial burdens. I was humbled and honored to share these ideas when I was recognized by Coast 93.1 as one of their 20 Outstanding Women in 2018 and again in 2019 when I was awarded the collective grant from 100+ Women Who Care, Southern Maine Chapter.
I have a B.A. in social work. I’ve always had deep love and empathy for people. I’m a hopeless optimist and I really, really love life. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be with my family and friends and to meet my daughters-in-law and grandchildren!
This organization, and its mission, belongs to whoever is put in its path. I’ll do the best I can and trust that I have the ability to provide grace, comfort, knowledge, and even humor, when needed. I don’t think about my own journey very much anymore. There’s no doubt that it changes you, but I try to reassure my clients that the heartache, suffering and pain will soon be in their rearview mirror.
I want people to know that we’ve got them covered. And when their courage and hope is weak, we will help carry it for them in love.
- Debby Porter - Founder & CEO of Hair Matters 2 ME (https://www.hairmatters2me.org)