FORT DETRICK, Md. -- After retiring from the U.S. Navy in 2014, Fernando Trujillo quit cutting his hair.
"I just decided to let it grow; one less expense," he said. "In the military, I pretty much had to get my haircut every two weeks to stay within regulations."
For the Fort Detrick defense contractor, who regularly let his hair grow prior to his 24-year Navy career, nearly six years of growth resulted in his long dark locks hanging all the way down to his waist.
Trujillo, 49, said he decided to cut his hair after his younger brother, a New Mexico National Guardsman, asked him to participate in his upcoming promotion ceremony.
But rather than simply hack it off, Trujillo, a survivor of salivary gland cancer, wanted to do something for others going through the scary prospect of debilitating treatments -- that is when he decided to donate his hair to help cancer patients.
Trujillo, who worked as a biomedical engineering consultant for the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency for a year before transitioning into a new role in January at the Defense Health Agency, searched around and settled on a nonprofit organization called Hair We Share.
"I looked at their website and they said they would take light gray hair," he said. "So I sent an email and told them I had over 20 inches of hair to donate."
Trujillo, a native of New Mexico who resides in Thurmont, Md., made an appointment to get his hair cut on Jan. 18 at Ladies and Gents Downtown Hair Co. in Frederick, Md.
He walked out with seven locks of hair, each 28 inches long.
"I've lost some friends and family over the years and also had some acquaintances that have had battles with cancer who lost their hair going through radiation," he said when asked why he wanted to donate. "I figured my hair would be something that someone could benefit from."
Michael Duggan, a senior biomedical equipment specialist and co-worker of Trujillo's during his time with USAMMA, described his former colleague as "a kind and compassionate person" who thinks of others before himself.
"Fernando is the kind of person that would give you the shirt off his back when you are in need," Duggan said.
Trujillo's own bout with cancer started in March 2012 after he noticed a little bump on the roof of his mouth. After a biopsy, doctors delivered the bad news.
He had cancer.
"Your heart just kind of drops and you have that bad feeling, like 'damn, how bad is it?'" Trujillo recalled. "The first thing the doctor did was try to calm me down and let me know that everything should be fine. It was just a matter of how much they were going to have to cut out."
About two weeks later, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon successfully removed a gumball-sized tumor -- about 10 millimeters in diameter -- from Trujillo's palate.
"The doctor was really good about letting me know what was going on," he said. "Then I had to wear a mouth guard for about a month."
During the recovery process, Trujillo said he lost about 20 pounds because he couldn't eat regular foods.
"I never ate so much pumpkin soup in my life," he laughed. "You really can't eat meat. I had a lot of protein drinks."
Trujillo has been in remission ever since. Biopsies after six months, one year and two years have all come back clean.
Despite some sensitivity at the surgical site, Trujillo's life has pretty much returned to normal. That feeling of normalcy was a motivating factor behind his decision to donate his hair.
Trujillo said a wig can go a long way to helping a patient maintain their dignity during a difficult cancer treatment, allowing them to "blend in" and not draw attention to their condition.
"It's more about not drawing attention from people who constantly ask questions and feel sorry for you," Trujillo said. "Hopefully that little bit will be able to help them retain a little dignity out of the whole situation they are facing."