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Cancer Surgeon Caps Fundraiser with Haircut

Two scissors-wielding women sliced off the almost blue-black ponytail belonging to a very willing surgeon Friday, before sharing a long embrace.

The emotional moment was all for charity, the capstone of a $15,000 fundraising effort by Dr. Lisa Guerra for breast cancer nonprofit Susan G. Komen of Orange County.

After the haircut, Guerra stood smiling in her scrubs in an empty conference room at Hoag Cancer Institute in Newport Beach with shoulder length hair she hadn’t had since she was a child.

For the women who cut her hair, it was a chance to give back to the surgeon who helped save their lives with a nurturing touch.

Margie Gollihugh and Niloofar Fakimi remember when they were diagnosed with cancer and how Guerra’s caring behavior helped them face the daunting struggles of surgery. There were small moments: a phone call before surgery; a gentle hand on the shoulder; a softness in her voice.

“She’s been my angel,” Fakimi said. “My savior.”

Fakimi was diagnosed in 2008, and donated $1,000 to Guerra’s fundraising effort, matching Gollihugh’s contribution for most generous pledge.

“She’s just a beautiful person, and this is the least we can do,” Fakimi, 50, said.

There were more than 230,000 new cases of breast cancer reported in 2014, according to estimates from the American Cancer Society. Hoag treats around 800 breast cancer patients a year.

In August of 2012, Gollihugh was one of them. She was still piecing together her life after her husband’s death in a cycling accident.

“I actually walked in to see another doctor and I didn’t feel comfortable,” Gollihugh, 67, said.

She said there was something impersonal about the care, but when she met Guerra, she felt a warmth come from her.

This wasn’t only surgery to Guerra. Her family has a history of breast cancer, from her grandmother to her great grandmother. That, in part, inspired her to become a breast surgeon, earning the skills to treat the disease that had infiltrated her family. But Guerra wanted to do more than fulfill her surgical duties.

“Each year I’ve tried to raise a little bit more money,” she said.

So this year she devised a plan: if she raised more than $10,000, she would let the person with the highest donation cut off her hair.

Friday she had two highest bidders chop off her hair — the ponytail is going to a charity that supplies wigs for cancer patients.

Guerra cautions women to get annual mammograms starting at 40. The disease claimed 40,000 lives this year, the American Cancer Society estimates.

“I think there are women out there who think breast cancer can’t happen to them. No one in their family has had it before,” she said.

Guerra knows breast cancer can strike women of all medical backgrounds and said she’ll persist with her efforts until that cure is found.