By Mara Klecker
As a social service director working in long-term care, Traci Cunningham made a promise to her residents during the COVID-19 pandemic: She wouldn’t cut her hair until pandemic precautions were lifted and they, too, could get to a salon. By late 2020 her hair had grown past her waist.
Besides making it a fun event for her residents, Traci knew she wanted to turn the haircut into a way to give back to the community of cancer survivors and their families. So, she decided to create a Facebook fundraiser for AIM at Melanoma. The more that was donated, the more hair she’d cut off. Her goal was to raise about $200, and she planned to cut about 14 inches. She reached her $200 goal within 24 hours.
More than $1,300 later, in late May 2021, Traci ended up snipping 29 inches of her hair off. About 19 inches of that went to Wigs4Kids, an organization that supplies free wigs for children battling cancer.
“I had no idea that the fundraiser was going to spread like wildfire,” Traci said. “I had total strangers donating, which just makes me emotional to think about.”
Traci chose to donate to AIM because both her sister and her daughter are melanoma survivors. Traci’s daughter, Brittany Loosemore, was diagnosed with melanoma at 26 and underwent two surgeries to remove the spot on her left breast as well as her lymph nodes. She received Interferon for a year, and gave herself the injections three times a week for 11 months.
“I pray that nobody has to hear the words ‘Your child has cancer,’” Traci said. “It’s devastating and heartbreaking and you feel helpless in so many ways.” But Traci did offer her daughter as much help as she could, often in the form of encouragement and emotional support.
Brittany received the news of her diagnosis while she was at a work conference in New Orleans. She ducked into a closet to take the phone call from her doctor. “I immediately called my mom,” Brittany said. “It was the worst thing to tell her over the phone, but she held it together so well. She’s literally my rock.”
Despite the side effects of Interferon, Brittany kept traveling for work during her treatment. Before she had to give herself her first injection, she called her mom again, worried that she wasn’t able to do it. Traci calmed her down and talked her daughter through it. “I was her cheerleader over the phone,” Traci said.
In Brittany’s words, her mom gave her the strength to push through. “I’m so lucky to have her,” she said.
Traci also accompanied her daughter to all of her appointments, something she still tries to do when Brittany goes in for her checkups. It’s the least she can do for her daughter, who she calls her “hero,” for her strength during her melanoma journey.
Brittany uses the same word for her mom for the support she offered during that time.
“She does everything she can for me and for others,” Brittany said. “It means so much to me that she’s so compassionate not only for me and my journey, but also for others who are on their own cancer journey.”
Brittany has been cancer-free for four years, and her mom’s support has been steadfast, then and now.
“I was very lucky to have her,” Brittany said. “I wish that everyone going through cancer can have the kind of support system I had.”