The patron saint of my holiday is a cartoon leprechaun named Lucky, the mascot of the St. Baldrick's Foundation. Begun in 2000 on a St. Patrick's Day bet, St. Baldrick's has raised $50.5 million in the past decade to fund research for children's cancer treatment and to raise awareness of a disease that strikes an American child every three and a half minutes.
Head shaving events -- where volunteers are sponsored to go bald for cancer -- are the foundation's primary fundraiser, according to Foundation spokesperson Sara McCarthy. The parties are thrown by volunteers across the country to bring folks in the community who care about kids and cancer together to pony up their ponytails while friends and family plunk down money "on their heads" that will help St. Baldrick's fund grants for scientists searching for the cure for childhood cancer.
In the past decade, 130,000 people have plopped down in a chair at a St. Baldrick's event in the past 10 years and said so long to their hair to raise money to fight children's cancer. I'm proud to count myself among those 130,000 brave -- and bald -- souls. Since 2006, I've had my head shaved at four St. Baldrick's fundraisers, starting a year after the birth of my daughter.
My child has been blessed with good health, but time after time in the community newspaper business, I was forced to write articles about fundraisers for local children with cancer. And sometimes a year later, sometimes two years, I would sit down to write that same child's obituary. Each one tore away another piece of my resolve, until the journalistic code -- don't get involved in the story -- was no more.
I shaved first because I had to do something; I shave now because I've found joy in an unlikely place. In baldness, I've found the beauty of feeling like I have power over childhood cancer. I suppose it comes down to this: I'm Jeanne Sager, and I'm a mom, and I'm addicted to shaving my head to fight childhood cancer.
And fortunately, I'm not the only one.
Characterized by laughter, cheers and hairstylists threatening to leave shavees heads half covered in hair unless folks put up a little more cash for the cause, St. Baldrick's Day events are equal parts raucous party and righteous fundraiser. The first shaving was held in New York City in 2000; events are now thrown year-round, but the number of events comes to a -- if you'll pardon the pun -- head in the weeks around St. Patrick's Day. And these days they're put together by people like Fay Cerullo, a teacher and mother of two from Liberty, N.Y., who walked into her first St. Baldrick's head shaving in 2005.
Cerullo's son, Ryan, then 15 was being treated for Hodgkin's lymphoma, and he was being honored as one of the kids with cancer at a shaving party in Nanuet, N.Y. "We walked in, and the crowd was so huge, I couldn't even get through the door," she recalls. The audience made a tunnel for Fay and Ryan to get to the front and started cheering for another child surviving cancer.
Fast forward five years. Ryan is in remission and off at college. And on Saturday Cerullo threw her fourth St. Baldrick's event in Liberty with a firehouse full of more kids surviving cancer, more cheers, and a floor coated in hair given up for the love of kids everywhere.
As a national group, that's what St. Baldrick's is there for -- to make a difference for someone, somewhere. One of the major beneficiaries of the foundation's annual allotment to researchers is the Children's Oncology Group. It's the group who developed the specialized treatment protocol that knocked out Ryan Cerullo's lymphoma. Children's Oncology Group received another $4 million this year to continue its works, money which came from head shaving events like the one Cerullo organized.
"For me the fight hasn't stopped just because my kid's in remission," Fay Cerullo tells Holidash. "It's for the next kid that we do this, for anyone else.
"Children are small adults," she continues. "If not now, then when? If not you, then who? I don't know how, I don't know who, but we're going to cure this."
To date, St. Baldrick's Day has been celebrated in all 50 states and 24 countries around the world. Find out where there's a head shaving in your neighborhood and how to plan one at the St. Baldrick's Foundation.
Looking for more ways to make the world a healthier place -- without shaving your head? Think about walking a mile with Cross Country Man as he travels from coast to coast to raise awareness about world peace.