At Leawood church, locks fall to help cancer patients

Eight-year-old Jillian Vervynck fit the stylist’s scissors into her fingers Sunday as if she’d been handed a surgeon’s scalpel.

Breathlessly she pressed the blades against the dense trunk of her mother’s gathered ponytail and began to squeeze.

There were many reasons her mother — Katie Vervynck of Olathe — could list for giving up most of her strawberry blond hair to help supply wigs for people fighting cancer.

She thought of her husband’s mother, who died of breast cancer when he was in high school. She thought of her aunt and her battle with breast cancer.

And hot summer is coming — not the best time to keep all this hair that was longer than she’d ever had it before.

But here was perhaps the most meaningful moment: Jillian working those scissors.

It took a while. A lot of squeezes. The stylist gently urged the girl on.

All in all, a couple dozen girls, women and at least one man kept three volunteer stylists busy in giving up their hair at the Church of the Nativity’s “Wig-Out” Sunday afternoon in Leawood.

Brian Vervynck, Katie’s husband, watched as Jillian finally cut her way through her mom’s hair. He saw his younger children, Joe, 6, and Allie, 5, gather around the rubber-banded ponytail in Jillian’s hand and pet it with little fingers as if it were a delicate kitten.

“This is such a good thing to teach them,” their father said.

Jillian, whose own rich hair wasn’t quite long enough, determined she would let it grow so that when Nativity repeats its “Wig-Out” as planned next year, she’ll be ready.

“I want to help people who have cancer,” she said.

Many people connected to Nativity have been donating hair individually to organizations that help cancer patients, but some church members thought they could rally more people to the cause as a group, said Jill Dahir, one of the organizers.

They even prepared award patches to hand out to the several Girl Scouts who came.

Vilma Subel, who brought along a team of stylists from her salon, Xiphium, to harvest the locks of hair, reveled in the sight of so many children with their families in the church school’s cafeteria.

“It’s the joy in the youth,” she said. “They sense the excitement in helping. … It’s a wonderful energy in here.”

She and some of the other stylists have helped out in hair donation efforts before, and it brought tears to her eyes thinking about the ways people in the room have experienced cancer, both known and unknown to her.

“This is in honor of all the people in our lives,” she said.

Brannan Fish, 30, of Olathe represented the male gender and that growing legion of people who grow long hair with the idea they’ll harvest it for cancer patients.

The long hair started about five years ago in his mid 20s because, Fish said, “I went through a phase.”

But a friend who went through the same kind of phase was giving up his hair for cancer every couple of years, inspiring Fish to do likewise.

When it was done, Fish rolled his head to reabsorb the new, short-haired experience.

“That’s a lot of weight off,” he said. “I feel like a bobblehead. It feels good.”