Brave the Shave: Fight Children’s Cancer
Five Years with St. Baldrick’s — A Journey on the Space Coast
The year is 2011. It’s a bright, sunny, warm day in Florida — but that practically goes without say. I’m guiding my Mini Cooper south to Melbourne, Florida not knowing that within hours my life will change.
As I arrive in quaint little part of the world, I park the Cooper and head on into Meg O’Malley’s. It’s slammed with people in full St. Patrick’s Day mode. I see a buzz out back, and so I make my way there to look for a man named Garrett. A few months prior, he had called me on a Saturday morning on his way to his son’s football game to tell me about a little event he wanted to put together for the St. Baldricks’ Foundation.
The St. Baldrick’s Foundation. Dedicated to funding for Children’s Cancer Research. Every year, these folks come together and proclaim themselves to be SHAVEES. Or, as he went on to explain further — people who dedicate their perfectly fine heads of hair to the cause. They all GO BALD in solidarity against Children’s Cancer for donations. The donations go on to fund the crucial RESEARCH we need for these kids.
Every 3 minutes a child is diagnosed with cancer.
Every 3 minutes another family is thrown into this cycle.
We lose 7 children every day to the disease we’re so desperately trying to research & fight.
The US Government only spends 4% of their budget each year for this cause.
The rest is up to us.
Garrett peaked my interested when I learned that it was a St. Patrick’s based event. For us, it’s held annually on that weekend of shamrocks.
As the daughter of a retired police officer — he all but secured my involvement when he explained that St. Baldrick’s was fueled by the brotherhood that lives & breathes inside police and fire departments.
And as he expressed our true mission, as Garrett told me about the children with cancer and their families who we would be helping? It was a no brainer. I said yes. I’d be there. Whatever they needed, I’m there.
And, so. Here I was. Camera in hand, year one of being St. Baldrick’s Brevard’s photographer. I had no idea in these moments how much my life was changing, but it was. I had no idea what I was doing even, but I knew it had to matter.
To be honest, I’m not even sure I knew what passion was until St. Baldrick’s found me.
I remember watching one of our first women go bald. She raised hundreds of dollars within minutes for St. Baldrick’s, and as I looked on for a fleeting moment I thought, “I could do that!” but then I shook it off. If I returned home 8 hours later…BALD….what would my family think?
But still the thought remained, “I could do that!”
2012. A full year later, and we've grown. We’re at The Avenue Viera now, and it’s a brightly lit beautiful day for bald heads. A friend has made the trek with me this year so that I don’t have to make the 160 mile roundtrip drive alone.
People who just one year ago were strangers — are now family. We’re in this fight together. The one or two I’ve kept in contact with throughout the year, seek me out. They hug me, they tell me it’s great to have me back. I tell them there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
And, at the end of the event, when the heads are all BALD and there’s only hair to sweep away and thousands of dollars to donate to the cause — I find Garrett, “You have me, you know.”
He laughs, “Well, I’d hope so!”
“No, I mean it.” I hold a camera at my side, with a pounding in my heart, “I’m going to shave my head,” his eyes light up wildly, “NO! Not today, not yet. But the event after I get married? My hair is yours.”
He laughs and throws his arms around me, “You got it. I’m gonna hold you to that!”
And I know he will. Even if, in that moment, I’m entirely single.
2013. I’ve created a St. Baldrick’s team now as my passion grows. Team Live Out Loud is dedicated to the memory of my sister, Kellie, who died in April of 2004 — not from cancer, but from completely unknown causes.
It doesn’t matter how she died, she’s gone…and left in her place is the beating in my heart that will not allow me to go in any direction but forward.
Because of her — I live out loud, and so…I name the team that. It seems more than fitting…that’s what I want for these kids too. A life lived out loud.
My dad says he’ll shave, he sees how fiercely dedicated I am to the cause — and a retired cop is still a police officer, still always ready to come to the aid of his brothers. “I don’t have much hair,” he says, “but you can have whatever I have.” That’s my dad in a nutshell.
A friend joins, and then another. And, of course, The Dude — my boyfriend of almost a year — with his long, curly, red locks has been there from the start. He has been one of my best friends for years, and just weeks after the 2012 event as I tell him about how I've promised to go BALD for St. Baldrick’s after I’m married — he laughs, but he knows. It’ll happen someday. I’m just lucky enough that he wants to be a part of it.
It’s then that he tells me he’s going to become a SHAVEE. He’s going to grow his hair out for 6 months…and in March 0f 2013 — he’ll go BALD for St. Baldrick’s. My eyes well up with big, fat, beautiful tears that fall right onto the text message that says it all — I love this guy far beyond just friendship.
Team Live Out Loud raises $3,155 in 2013, and $4,688 in 2014. We do this together. We do this for the kids who are counting on us to find better treatments…and, one day, a cure.
And as the years have gone by, friendships have grown and a community has formed. We’re not just people with big hearts, St. Baldrick’s Brevard is a fiercely passionate family now — determined to reach our goal. In just five short years, we’ll have raised over a Million Dollars for Children’s Cancer Research.
And, yes. There is relentless teasing from them all for me to shave my head — because, by now, they all know “the rules” — first a bride, then a SHAVEE.
I arrive at The Avenue Viera, it’s 2014. The sun shines, and while it’s cool now — I know in just an hour or two it’ll start to warm up as I run around capturing as many photos as one human possibly can. But, before then — right now— there is a quiet, cool, calm.
I love these moments.
The ones of quiet, cool, calm…because I know what is about to unfold once the clock draws closer to noon. Now, I can sit and feel myself breathe. Come noon…that will all change.
St. Baldrick’s, for me, is nearly 8 hours of intense, non-stop, passion fueled, emotionally charged action. But this quiet, cool, calm in the moments before it all begins also fills me with anticipation and nerves tangled with excited energy. As the crowd begins to grow, music fills the air, and the beating of drums and bagpipes synchronizes with the beat of my heart. Another event has begun, another chance for us to get it right. Deep breath, here we go…get those wallets out! ☺
Our Honored Kids march in, side by side with their families. They are the ones who have destroyed cancer — the ones who still fight. They march in with smiles on their faces, a strength no adult has ever summoned. They are the heroes, but they need our help.
It is a day of re-connecting, a day of laughter, and a day of tears. Hannah, the younger sister of one of our Honored Kids Ryan, steps up — she wants to shave her head for her brother. He is battling cancer, and she wants him to know that he is not alone — their beautifully bald heads are the symbolism of true solidarity. She does this on her own, and as her mom slices her pigtails away…there is not a dry eye. This…is love…it is why we continue the fight.
One of our doctors who stands to my left says, “Man, we even got the photographer crying!” she nudges me playfully, as another passes me a tissue.
Sometimes there’s just no hiding behind the camera.
And, now…the 2015 event is upon us. Just 12 days away, and Team Live Out Loud is closing in on $5,000. While St. Baldrick’s Brevard nears One Million Dollars. We do this together. We do this for them.
Five years ago, I drove to Melbourne not knowing what the day would bring. Five years later, I can tell you. St. Baldrick’s has changed my life, and shown me what true, unyielding passion is.
Why do I tell the story? Because you NEED to know about it. You NEED to know how much the St. Baldrick’s Foundation is changing the lives of so many, and especially for those kids who are fighting cancer currently…for the children and families who will hear and are hearing the words, “Your Child Has Cancer.” every three minutes, every day…until we do something to change it.
The challenge is this:
Take Action. And do it now.
Life — at some point — will challenge you to be an active participant. It is then that you will need to decide. Will you hide in the shadows or will you stand up and ACT?! Realize that by the time you finish reading these words…at least three children will have been diagnosed with cancer.
Will you choose to be apart of something bigger than yourself?
30 years ago Breast Cancer was a death sentence. I lost a grandmother and an aunt far too soon to that wretched beast. But, we brought on awareness. We raised funds. We marched. We RESEARCHED. We STOOD UP and fought. And that changed. Today there is still hope to be found. Awareness and ACTION — your donations! — fuel lifesaving treatment.
If we can save the ta-ta’s…
then we can save our kids too.
This starts with us.
If you have read this far & felt inspired to help us change the course of Children’s Cancer sooner rather than later — you may donate to Team Live Out Loud and the St. Baldrick’s Foundation HERE.
A great resource for where the funds are going & how they’re impacting our children can be found on the St. Baldrick’s Foundation Website.
Our event at The Avenue Viera is on March 14, 2015. We invite you to join our community.