GARDEN CITY — Shirley Arteaga has donated her thick, dark hair to Locks of Love twice, but doing so a second time has added meaning for the Garden City resident.
The first time, six or seven years ago, Arteaga grew 28 inches of her hair for the national nonprofit organization that creates hair pieces for children with medical hair loss. She took the initiative because "it was for a good cause," she said.
Since then — three cervical-cancer-free years later and after discovering that her father is battling cancer — she has donated 16 more inches of her hair, now flecked with gray, because of how cancer has touched her life.
".. When I did it the first time, I knew (Locks of Love) needed hair... I wanted to give back," said Arteaga, 46. "With this second experience, there's the cancer in my life, there's my father, and there's the customers we work with, too."
The news that she had cancerous cells in her cervix came three years ago, said Arteaga, who has been healthy most of her life.
"I remember around that time getting really sick, losing a lot of blood, and I realized something wasn't going right,'' she said. "I was weak and fatigued all the time.
"I knew there was no reason to get upset and break things. Instead, we kept the information in the immediate family, to be private about it. But I also told the folks at my workplace, and they were so understanding about it."
Arteaga says her clients and her co-workers at the Center for Independent Living Southwest Kansas, where she is director of Argus home health services, helped her through the struggle with cancer because some of the 35 patients served by her organization also are cancer patients.
Even before her battle, the work has been rewarding.
"I enjoy everything about assistance and helping people. Seeing a smile on their faces when their needs are met is the best part," she said.
To rid her body of cancer, Arteaga had a hysterectomy and has remained cancer-free since the surgery.
But struggles in her family continue. Her 72-year-old father, who lives in Wichita, Daniel Otero, is battling stomach cancer and has been undergoing chemotherapy for nearly two years.
"I was blessed that mine was caught just in time and there was no need for (radiation) treatment," she said.
Before cutting off more than a foot of her hair at Generations Salon, a Locks of Love participating salon, Arteaga said she realized her hair would be short, possibly near her chin but that would "be just fine."
Locks of Love organizers say they always are in need of hair to create the hairpieces the nonprofit provides to people younger than 21 who are suffering from long-term medical hair loss.
Most Locks of Love recipients suffer from alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder that causes the hair follicles to shut down. Others have experienced hair loss from radiation therapy and chemotherapy, severe burns or trauma, and various other genetic and dermatological conditions, according to the organization's website.
At least 10 inches of donated hair are needed to make a wig. The process uses up to 2 inches of hair, leaving 8 inches to create a jaw-length hairpiece. Most of the children who receive hairpieces from Locks of Love are little girls and most want long hair, according to Locks of Love.
Gray hair is accepted for donation, too, and is sold by the organization to offset their costs, according to the Locks of Love website. Permed or color-treated hair also is accepted.
Following her haircut, Arteaga said, members of her extended family followed suit.
"I really do like (my hair) now; it's a lot lighter. When I shampoo my hair, I don't need all that shampoo," she said. "My daughter did the same thing recently. She surprised me and sent me a (picture) text that's she'd donated her hair, as well, and an aunt of mine and another aunt, too."