LEMONT – Two years ago, Tracy Rathbun shaved her hair to raise money for an American Cancer Society Relay for LIfe event in Lockport.
Her hair has completely grown back since then, but other family members have followed her lead in donating hair each year since.
Last year, it was her cousin, Tenia Walton. This year, it was her 8-year-old niece, Rylee Drake.
The hair goes to Pantene Beautiful Lengths, which makes real-hair wigs for cancer patients.
Rathbun's team participated in the Lemont's Relay for Life this year, after it merged with the Lockport event. Rathbun, a Joliet resident who works at the Lemont Citgo Refinery, is a cancer survivor.
She was diagnosed with endometrial cancer in November 2008.
"The doctor told me had I not had surgery when I did, I would not have lived through Christmas that year," she said.
Though she did not lose her hair during the treatments, Rathbun said the possibility of losing her hair was another example of how helpless the cancer made her feel.
"When you have cancer, you are no longer in control of your body," she said. "You don't get to decide whether you go bald or not."
By shaving her hair, she said she was taking control of that decision and proving to herself that she could emotionally handle it.
This year's donor was supposed to be Rathbun's mother, but she could not make it to the Relay event. The fact that Rylee stepped up donate 10 to 12 inches of her hair was a surprise to Rathbun.
"[Rylee] was very excited about it," she said. "She called me. She said, 'Aunt Tracy, guess what? I cut my hair. Can you pick up my hair and donate it?'"
Rathbun said she thought when she shaved her hair, it would have an effect on her younger family members.
She said Rylee's donation affirms that and still makes her tear up just thinking about it.
Tracy Rathbun's 20-person Relay for Life team had a superhero theme. They were called "Wonder Friends – United Against Cancer," and each member wore a cape. Citgo, Rathbun's employer, was the team's sponsor.