Many 10-year-old girls might cry when getting their hair cut after growing it out for two years. But this week Torie McEwing didn't. She danced.
A small crowd of family and friends watched as Torie boosted herself up into the seat at Trichology Salon at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday in Oklahoma City. Her long brown hair swept down past her shoulder blades as she swung her pink and black sneakers onto the bottom rung of the chair.
“I can't believe it's actually happening,” she said.
The stylist put her hands on each side Torie's face, just below her ears. Torie looked into the mirror and nodded. There was no hesitation.
Hope and lemonade
At 2 p.m. Wednesday, a long-haired Torie and her friend, Jason Sales, 11, sat behind a homemade lemonade stand in the lobby of ProCure Proton Therapy Center, a proton cancer treatment facility in northwest Oklahoma City. They ask for 50 cents a cup, but patrons usually put bills in the pink piggy bank and don't ask for change.
“It's lovely,” Jason said.
“Most people that have bought it have probably said, ‘This is good lemonade.'”
All of the money is donated to a program called “Proton Pals.” It provides pediatric patients of the center with activities to enrich their ProCure and Oklahoma experience — trips to the zoo and aquarium, party supplies and gifts, among other things.
Torie is there because she understands the importance of proton therapy. Her stepdad, Mike Weigel, was successfully treated for prostate cancer with the therapy.
Jason is there because he has a brain tumor. He traveled from England to Oklahoma City after surgeons were unable to remove his tumor with traditional surgery.
“I know I'll be just fine,” Jason said.
His confidence is a result of ProCure's highly successful, noninvasive methods, and his friend, Torie. She's the one who has made patients like Jason feel at home.
When Torie's stepfather was in treatment at the facility in 2010, she met a young boy in a wheelchair going through therapy at the center.
“(Torie) would take his wheelchair and dance with him,” said Vickie Weigel, Torie's mother and manager of patient advocacy at the center. “She would wheel him around and dance with him ... She has a big heart, a very big heart.”
That experience sparked Torie to volunteer her summers and weekends at the center. She welcomes new kids to the center, visits with them almost daily and goes with them on “Proton Pals” trips. She doesn't just want to know how they are doing — she wants to know who they are.
“These people are so nice to me; I like to give back to them,” Torie said.
That's why she sat in a barber's chair Wednesday, giving something a little more tangible than friendship.
A promise kept
Torie didn't get nervous until she walked through the parking lot of ProCure on the way to the salon: “I got some butterflies,” she said.
But she said those went away when she arrived and had the black apron tied around her neck. She made a promise more than two years ago to donate her hair to “Children with Hair Loss,” a nonprofit that provides wigs to children in need, even if their hair will eventually grow back.
As each 12-inch ponytail was cut off and placed into Torie's open hand, her smile became wider and wider. It was hard to let her hair grow this long and now it was gone in a matter of minutes. When Torie hopped out of the chair, hair in hand, ready to head back to the center to show off her new cut, she imagined what it would be like to know the child who would benefit from her hair.
“I would tell them it was really worth it,” Torie said.
“I would love to see someone love my hair like that and be able to keep it forever.”