Shanali Beligala has heard many stories from family and close friends of the obstacles endured when battling cancer.
The emotional and mental strains of losing one's hair during the disease caught her attention, and she decided, as a teenager, it was time to step up.
Alongside her sister, Dimasha, the 16-year-old teen has since donated 33 inches of her own hair to Wigs For Kids — an organization that's supplied hair to children losing their own to cancer, over the last 40 years.
That's almost three feet, and 11 inches each time her locks got long enough to get them chopped.
But now, while continuing her promise to donate hair when she can, Beligala says she wants to do more in honour of a grandfather she never got the chance to meet.
"I always wanted to do a fundraiser because my grandpa battled with cancer 20 years ago and because of cancer, I have never met him before. Which makes me so sad, because I have heard so many good things that he had done in the past which warms my heart," the Port Coquitlam student tells the Tri-City News.
"I also have a few family friends who are battling cancer. I can see how upset they are because they are losing hair, suffering because they can’t do anything in life like other people and they are getting weaker everyday.
"I have also seen other kids and adults battling with different types of cancers on social media, and my family and I try to donate to help them out."
Beligala has set a modest goal of $2,500 for the benefit of the BC Cancer Foundation.
Her goal to go above and beyond that threshold, but also to raise awareness and encourage the community to take up the challenge as cancer has touched everyone that one point in their lives.
Beligala explains each time she sees her hair cut off, she doesn't feel a literal weight off her shoulders.
Instead, she's thrilled and encouraged to know that one day, it'll be placed on the head of a child somewhere around the world to help them smile and feel whole again in spite of cancer.
"After I cut my hair, I hold it in my hand I always say in my head, 'I’m going to do this all again when my hair is long enough to donate again,'" she adds.
"That’s how I did this three times, and I’m going to continue this as long as I can."
Beligala, a Grade 11 student at Terry Fox Secondary, plans to pursue a career in software engineering after graduation.
While her life goals have been set, she explains the one aspect she'll never change is the opportunity to better the lives of others — one strand of hair at a time.
"My parents raised me to help people and that’s what I’m doing now," says Beligala.
"[...] teach the same thing for my future kids too and tell them to do other amazing initiatives like this. During my high school years, I would always find volunteering is the best way to help others and that’s why I love doing it too."
According to Wigs For Kids, it can take up to 30 ponytails from about five donors to make a single wig.
The BC Cancer Foundation adds up to 80,000 patients depend on funds donated to them each year.
If you wish to contribute to Beligala's cause, you can visit the non-profit's website or scan the QR code in the photo below.