Bald is beautiful
Students shave their heads to raise money for childhood cancer in St. Baldrick’s event
The University’s chapter of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation successfully raised $48,025 for childhood cancer research at its annual head-shaving event at the Biltmore last Thursday.
St. Baldrick’s Foundation, an international organization founded in 2004, strives to “find cures for childhood cancers and give survivors long and healthy lives,” according to its website. Cancer kills more children in the United States than any other disease, but only four percent of federal funding for cancer research goes toward childhood cancer.
Second-year Nursing student Kirsten O’Sullivan, who participated in the event, said St. Baldrick’s works to fill this funding gap.
“There isn’t enough funding going into this and children are dying at 4- and 5-years-old, 15 and 16,” Sullivan said. “It’s harder for people when they die young. They’re preparing for college and preparing for the rest of their lives and they’re cut right at their prime, essentially.”
University participants fundraise and accumulate sponsors prior to the event. More than 60 individuals — called “Shavees” — went bald in the name of childhood cancer research Thursday. Other members of the organization served as a support system for those shedding their locks.
“For the people involved in the process … you serve as a witness,” said third-year College student Mirenda Gwin, one of the shavees. “You serve as an example of just how to be strong in the face of adversity … and how to be a supportive friend. … It is kind of scary knowing that for the first time in your life you’re going to see your scalp.”
While the first goal of the event is to raise money for children with cancer, the event also acts as an arena for emotional support. Event participants say losing their hair has an emotional impact.
“[For] a child with cancer who doesn’t have hair, they can see that they’re not abnormal; they’re not weird,” Gwin said. “They are beautiful just the way they are. They don’t have to have hair to define them or to make them beautiful.”
Most of those involved in the organization have seen the negative effects of children’s cancer in their lives and hope to make a change. Both Gwin and O’Sullivan said the experience of losing close friends and loved ones to childhood cancer ignited their passion for St. Baldrick’s. Similarly, second-year College student Wayne Fullen, outreach chair for the organization, said he was inspired by a personal contact.
“The reason I got involved in the first place was because when I worked at a daycare, there was a kid named Jonah who I’d seen go through all of this and get cheated out of a lot of his childhood,” Fullen said. “But talking to him, he was just the happiest little kid. I think it’s kids like that [who] make me want to do this every year, show them that they’re not alone, that these people can voluntarily get rid of their aesthetics for however long.”
Though shaving one’s head does not cure cancer, Fullen said it is a symbolic gesture.
“It’s one of those things that [is] characteristic [of] someone [going] through chemo,” he said. “They get their head shaved. I think it’s a very cool idea that [we] as people take that on ourselves and are able to [shave our heads] without necessarily having to.”
Gwin said the environment created by the event is cheerful and collaborative as people come together for such a good cause.
“We see so many bad news stories every day, just terrible things,” Gwin said. “But then finally you have this beautiful ray of sunshine called St. Baldrick’s and people can join together against a common foe [of] childhood cancer and we can fight together even though we come from all different backgrounds of life.”
Keeping the event going year after year in the fight against childhood cancer is a chance, O’Sullivan says, to keep hope alive about finding a cure.
“I always think about my future and my children in the future,” O’Sullivan said. “Cancer runs in my family and I really want there to be a cure if my children have cancer and my children’s children have cancer. … A parent should never have to bury their child.”