Baldwinite Meghan LaDue has been asked many times if her child, Noah Dzienius, is a boy or girl. At times, she admitted, it was difficult to tell because Noah had long, wavy hair that fell below his shoulders.
LaDue recalled an instance when a woman asked the question in a grocery store, with Noah in the seat of the shopping cart. “He’s dressed like a boy, but with the hair he looks like a girl,” she said. Those comments, LaDue said, were hurtful at times — but she took comfort in knowing her son was helping others.
Noah, 13, has grown out and donated his hair to cancer care organizations three times over the past eight years. He started when he was 5, and his most recent donation was on March 1, when he had 10 inches of hair cut off and donated to Hair We Share, a Roslyn-based organization that makes wigs for people — mostly children — who have lost their hair to medical treatments for cancer.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cancer is growing at a fast rate on Long Island. New York ranked 11th in the country in cases of childhood cancer, and in 2015 the number of breast and lung cancer cases in females in Nassau and Suffolk counties exceeded the state average.
Chemotherapy is still one of the most widely used cancer treatments, and often results in hair loss. Donations of wigs not only help patients feel better about themselves, Hair We Share states on its website, but also improve their ability to cope with their medical situation.
Giving others confidence to face difficult treatments was a motivating factor for Noah as he grew his hair. “It gives those people hope, because it helps them realize there are nice people out there who are willing to help them,” he said. “It’s for a good cause.”
And Noah’s work isn’t done. To ensure that patients don’t have to pay for wigs — which cost about $1,000 apiece to make — Hair We Share also collects monetary donations. Noah and his mother have been collecting donations through an online fundraiser, but still need $650 to reach their goal. To donate, visit bit.ly/2vqKLX1.
Noah said he first became interested in growing his hair for others when he was 5 and saw a commercial for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. It was about the need for wigs for childhood cancer patients. “I just thought to myself, ‘Well, I could do that,’” he said. “So I decided to do it ever since. I just felt like it was a good thing to do, and it was the right thing to do.”
He remembered that commercial, he said, both times he regrew his hair. “I realized that I wasn’t quite done yet and I could do it again,” he said. LaDue said she supported her son’s decision. “I always felt like, it’s his head, his decision,” she said. “We’re always very big on him being his own person, as long as he’s safe, happy and healthy.”
The growth process, Noah said, included more than skipping trips to the barber — his hair needed to be brushed twice a day, and washed and conditioned frequently to keep it healthy. It also meant dealing with comments from children and adults who would question, or insult, his appearance.
“It kind of got frustrating the last few months to be called a girl,” said Noah, who attends Baldwin Middle School. “But that was my decision, and I had to roll with it.”
LaDue said the adults’ comments hurt the most. “Some would go as far to say, ‘When are you going to get him a ‘normal’ haircut?” she said. “That word, normal, to me was just not nice.”
She said people were often embarrassed when she explained why her son had such long hair. Others, she added, supported his effort. When the two visited the Lemon Tree salon in Oceanside to have his hair cut and sent to Hair We Share, the employees and some patrons pitched in $100 to help with cost of a wig. “That was pretty amazing,” LaDue said.
Noah said he looks forward to once again growing his hair, but might wait a while before doing it again. “Maybe when I have facial hair,” he said with a laugh, “so people will know I’m a boy.”