Alamo students donate locks to cancer patients

Matt Wilson | mwilson@themonitor.com Emotions ran high at PSJA Memorial Early College High School in Alamo on Monday morning as 14 of the school's students donated hair to the American Cancer Society to be made into wigs for cancer survivors. Gabi Salinas is pictured having her locks cut by her aunt, Minnie Robles, who is currently battling olfactory neuroblastoma, a cancer that affects the sinuses.

ALAMO — Tears and sniffles turned into laughter and giggles after the first snips of the scissors in the gym of PSJA Memorial Early College High School in Alamo on Monday morning.

The amateur barbers, made up of teachers and family members and cancer survivors, held out the first clump of locks and the girls gasped in shock at how much hair they’d just had chopped off.

The girls, 14 in all, had opted to donate 8 inches a piece to the American Cancer Society. Coming in at over 9 feet all together, the donation is likely enough hair to make a complete wig for a cancer survivor.

By the end of the morning, more students were asking if they could donate their hair, too.

“Three girls stepped up to me afterward and asked if they could donate their hair at the end of the day,” Rowdy R. Vela, the school’s principal, said. “Our students understand service, they understand awareness. They understand helping others.”

Vela, who lost his father to gastric cancer 12 years ago, said MEC’s National Honor Society created the project as a service project to help cancer survivors and increase awareness.

“It’s our first time doing this event, so our students are excited, our school’s excited,” he said. “There’s a lot of cancer patients in our community of Alamo and PSJA, young women suffering from leukemia, breast cancer, all different types of cancer, and so this is a way for them to give back and help their community, and help wherever their locks may go to.”

Before their students had their hair cut, cancer survivors and student’s whose lives have been affected by cancer spoke to the student body. Vela said that the impact was profound.

“It really hits home when you know somebody who has gone through cancer and knows the hardships that they face,” he said. “Sitting behind me were some tough boys who cause problems, skipping and stuff. They were both crying. I thought, ‘Wow this has really touched people.’”

NHS Vice President Gabi Salinas was one of the students who spoke at the event.

“I don’t think there are very many people here who don’t know someone who has battled, survived or are continuing to fight cancer,” she said. “I myself have lost several family members to cancer, and I have two aunts who are cancer survivors.”

Salinas chose her aunt, Minnie Robles, to cut her hair. Doctors discovered a tumor in Robles’ sinuses a year ago and diagnosed her with olfactory neuroblastoma.

“It was devastating,” Robles said. “I have children. I have a grandson. It was hard to get the diagnosis.”

Salinas said that thinking of her aunt and the hardships she’s experienced helped her to go through with the haircut.

“It was kind of nerve wracking, but in the end you just think about it going to a good cause,” she said. “She went through so much, and she has just started growing her hair back. She went through chemo last year and I just thought that I wanted to donate to someone like her, someone that doesn’t feel comfortable because they lost all their hair, like this is a way to feel comfortable in their own skin again.”

Robles said at first she was surprised by her niece’s decision to donate her hair.

“This is a big deal for a girl her age. It’s her senior year, she’s taking senior pictures next week. For her to not think about how she’s going to look in her senior portrait and do this, it’s huge for a senior student,” she said. “When Gabi called and said she wanted me to cut her hair I thought, ‘Mine’s just growing back, and you want me to go and cut yours off?’”

Vela said he hopes the event becomes a tradition at the school.

“We hope that it gets bigger and bigger and we can help women going through this illness,” he said. “Together we can do great things, and hopefully end cancer one day.”