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First of all, thank you for the many birthday wishes yesterday. I had a lovely day with my family, including lunch and a little shopping with my favorite partner in crime (my mom) sandwiched between breakfast with homemade gifts from my sweet boys and I’m-not-cooking-tonight Marotta’s delivered by my handsome husband for dinner.

And now onto today’s activities. St. Baldrick’s has recently launched a new initiative called BaseBald where college or high school baseball teams shave their heads at school-specific events.  Last week, I got an email from the guy at St. Baldrick’s who spearheaded this idea (a cancer survivor himself) inviting me and the boys to the first official Basebald event at Bluffton University “in Ohio.” Well, I’d never even heard of Bluffton before so I quickly looked it up on my phone and it seemed to be somewhere around Columbus (a quick two hour drive from home), so, after double checking to make sure our various schedules were clear (or clear enough, except for that little thing called school), I happily accepted.  Little did I know, until Monday’s visit to MapQuest, that this small Ohio college was a full three hours’ drive away!

But the boys were excited and I knew it would be special, so they played hooky for the day and we headed off first thing this morning through the cold pouring rain to Bluffton. Three hours later, we arrive amid sunny skies and a temperature nearing 70 degrees. (This winter has been scarily warm — I love it, but it is also completely bizarre … and perhaps worthy of another post). So here we are in the middle of Farmland, Ohio at this quaint college campus complete with a little stone bridge over a rushing creek that we crossed on our way to the Commons. We make our way to the cafeteria and, I gotta tell you, I think the entire campus is there, all eating lunch at the exact same time in the exact same room.

And the entire baseball team, including coaches, stepped up on that stage to shave their heads. Austin was invited to take over the buzzers and do some of the shaving himself, but he hid his face and refused, unlike his big brother who jumped up at the first chance and took over. So there was Braedan, all pretty eyes and smiling face under his huge St. Baldrick’s hat, wielding the buzzer and chatting into the microphone at the same time, cheerfully answering questions like, “Have you ever shaved anyone’s head before?” “No!” (poor brave ball player squirming away up there …).  Just look at this beautiful shot (which I’m sadly unable to copy). Austin was asked to shave again later in the hour but again refused, only to tell me once we were safe at home that he really wanted to and I need to “make” him do it the next time.

It was all very sweet and I think that seeing Austin there had a definite impact on the young men shaving.  I imagine that it was initially just another thing to do with their buddies — a group of guys hanging out, competing against each other, doing what their coach wanted them to do for no greater reason than that he wanted them to do it. But that hearing a tiny bit of Austin’s story and seeing him there in the flesh, looking so normal, looking like they may have looked fifteen years ago, made it all the more meaningful. Some of them hung around afterwards, shyly talking with me or proudly showing off the soft serve ice cream machine to my eager boys. Braedan was especially wowed by the ready availability of any food you could ever want and repeatedly told Mark at dinner how everything was “free.”

The team raised more than $7,500 in less than a month, more dollars than the number of students and residents of Bluffton combined. And, as it said on the St. Baldrick’s site, how many communities can claim that?

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There are so many reasons we love St. Baldrick’s. Of course, the very necessary research they fund is the main one. But these events and the shavees give us so much more than that.

Here are some of the gifts, large and small, we’ve received from our involvement with St. Baldrick’s this year.

There are tangible gifts, actual boxes that arrived in the mail and were excitedly torn open:

And then there are the gifts that could never pack up and mail, no matter how big the box. One middle school boy, who’s shaving at our event, is honoring his aunt who died nearly one year to the day of March 11. He originally set a goal of $500 but, upon seeing the reaction of his friends and family, quickly raised it to $1000 and had now increased it to $1,500. The husband of one of my best friends is also shaving, as part of Team Gallagher at AJ Rocco’s (along with Mark and my brother Kirk). This friend said he would happily have donated $1,000 on his own if he could, but since he can’t, he’ll raise it instead. And raise it has, in a mere 24 hours.

And there are more gifts, sometimes in place of gifts: One of the six shavees from St Paul’s Cooperative Preschool had his 5th birthday party over the weekend and requested donations to St Baldrick’s in lieu of presents.

The youngest shavee in our group, my four-year-old nephew Van, has spawned an event of his own. The staff at his day care were so inspired by what he was doing that they’ve organized a pancake breakfast to be held the day before our head-shaving, to which all the families have been invited. Austin and I will attend also and I will give a short talk. They’re making faces on the pancakes so they’ll resemble perfectly oval bald heads. All the money they raise, which they predict could be $500, will be donated on Van’s head in honor of his effort. Austin loves pancakes and, as you an see from his St Baldrick’s Valentine (which was posted on their Twitter feed last week), he loves bald people too:

There are currently nine students from Fairfax Elementary shaving their heads alongside Braedan, seven of them his second grade classmates. Last night at dinner, he was asking how much each kid had raised and I told him that some of them were still just beginning and didn’t have much or any money yet. Without missing a beat, he said, “I think I should give some money to them. Maybe one dollar each.”  So tonight, my sweet charitable eight-year-old, will hand over some crumpled dollar bills (and a lot of coins) while I go through every page and place single dollar donations with my credit card. Love that boy.

And then there’s Mrs Glasier, fourth grade teacher at Fairfax, who set an extremely ambitious goal of raising $10,000. I will admit that I tried to talk her down to something more easily attainable, but she wouldn’t hear it. She’s only a small way there but this is a determined woman and I trust that she will keep asking, begging, pleading, cajoling and threatening until she reaches that goal, even if it’s not til after the event.

Another teacher in on the act (though not in the shaving kind of way!) is the boys’ preschool teacher who has insisted on going through and making a small donation on the individual pages of each current or former student and their siblings. I has suggested she could save a lot of time by making a few bigger donations, perhaps one to Team Austin and one to Team Fairfax, but no, she said she wanted each child to see their amount go up and see her name in their online lists of donors. She has spent years working with young children, after all, and she knows them well.

There’s another woman shaving at our event alongside her young daughter, who emailed to see if I knew any child who has or had cancer who might want to help shave her head.  Huh, do I ever! I told her I couldn’t guarantee the quality of Austin’s head-shaving skills but she didn’t bat an eye (this obviously isn’t for the vain).

So, we receive these gifts large and small, a dollar here, a dollar there. One more shavee registered today and another tomorrow. One more sign of love and support for us and for all the others who’ve traveled this road before and all those who will travel it after us. It all adds up to something big and powerful. Actually, it all adds up to $5 million, raised in record-breaking time. Check out today’s St. Baldrick’s headlines. Recognize anyone underneath all that hair?

And then take a second (four minutes actually, but it’s worth it) to watch these two brothers. The wisdom of kids ….

 

 

 

We are well on our way.

The twenty-nine brave shavees registered for the Cleveland Heights St. Baldrick’s event have raised more then ten thousand dollars. And we are well on our way to reaching our event goal of $15,000. Of course, if every shavee actually met their own individual goal as stated on their page, we would bring in a grand total of $24,710. It seems like a lot for a first year event and I know I do a lot of asking, but I believe that by working together, we can make that happen.

It’s worth remembering that St Baldrick’s is not about people’s hair and it’s not about fundraising competitions. It’s not about the entertainment at the event, although I do have a balloon bender and the Heights High Barbershoppers both confirmed , in addition to the Irish dancers. It’s not about spraying your bald head green and proudly showing off your peach fuzz.

It’s about kids. And it’s about lives. There are 36 children diagnosed with cancer in the United States every single day, 46 if you count teens and young adults. One quarter of them will not survive. More children die of cancer each year than of AIDS, asthma, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, and congenital anomalies combined. Granted, survival rates have gone up dramatically over the past twenty years and that is certainly worth celebrating (we celebrate it here every single day). But two-thirds of those kids who do survive live with life-long health complications as a result of their treatment. Sometimes these are relatively minor, like learning problems or infertility (by “minor” I only mean not life-threatening because I bet if you ask people with learning problems or infertility, they’d tell you those aren’t “minor” at all). Others live with major health consequences, like Austin. Yes, we have cured him of his cancer (so far), but at what cost? With more funding and better research, maybe there would have been targeted chemotherapies that could have shrunk his tumors without necessitating the removal of one and a half kidneys. This are not small things, trivial side effects. These are life-altering.

It is important to note that research into preventing and treating childhood cancers is woefully underfunded. While organizations like the American Cancer Society like to include images of children in their advertising materials, a measly 4% of all their dollars raised go to pediatric cancers. Of course, cancer strikes a huge number of adults and I’m not in any way suggesting that they are not worthy of improved treatments. But think of the number of years a child has to live with the consequences of having had cancer. If a 65 or 70-year old receives a chemo drug that causes heart damage in fifteen years, well …? Not great, but so be it (most Americans aged 75 to 80 will have some form of heart damage already). If a one-year-old receives that same chemo drug (as Austin did) and may have to contend with heart defects at the age of sixteen? That’s just plain wrong.

So, if you’re still thinking about signing up or donating, know that these events and the money they raise make a true difference. You are impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of children and all those who love them. Think of the road we’ve all been on with Austin over these past four years, the pain and the fear, the grief and the worry, the exhaustion and the uncertainty. Let’s take that away from the next family. Let’s make it so no other baby, no other mother, no other family has to go through what we went through.

And yes, let’s have fun at these events — fun is part of what makes them so special for cancer families (we need a little light in the darkness of treatment), but let us never forget why we do this. Every head shaved and every dollar raised matters. You matter.

Well, that was fast. I’ve already received rejections from three of the six agents who offered to review my work following the Pitch Slam. Don’t worry, it’s not quite as bad as it sounds. (It’s not great, mind you, but also not too awful.)

First of all, if I was forced to rank those six agents, I would say that two were my favorites, two were in the middle, and two were at the bottom (one because I just wasn’t excited about her and the other because the work she typically represents didn’t align with mine — as you’ll see below).  The first rejection came from one of those bottom two. Following the conference, when I would think through the agents I had met, I would consistently forget her.  Like, “Wait,…weren’t there six?  Now who was that sixth?” Her rejection came quickly, within a few days of my submission, and was completely generic.  The most generic rejection I’ve ever gotten.  It addressed me by my full name (Krissy Dietrich Gallagher) as if it had simply been cut and pasted from the submission form.  She then went on to say she was not the best agent for “the memoir” (I’ve never not had an agent mention the title of my work) in part because she doesn’t have the time to take on any new clients right now. Really? Then why did she go to a pitch slam where she’d meet some 400 eager new writers? My mom got the exact same rejection from her on the exact same day (except her’s referred to “the young adult fiction”).  Huh, oh well on that one.

The next rejection came from one of my middle ground agents, a very friendly woman who I enjoyed speaking to quite a bit.  Her’s was at least nice (and she mentioned the actual title of my book!), saying that she read my pages “with great interest and enjoyed my honest admissions and engaging narrative style.” But ultimately, she didn’t “fall in love” with the project as much as she had hoped. So that one was definitely a disappointment.

And the third, … oh now this one is classic. First, let me give you some background of how this industry works. Memoir falls into a category somewhere between fiction and non-fiction. It is, of course, non-fiction because it is actually true (at least it’s supposed to be true — just ask James Frey!). But agents want it submitted like fiction. Not submitted as if it were fiction, but submitted in the same manner that one submits fiction. Here’s the deal: If you’re a fiction writer, you need to complete your entire work before submitting it. An agency and publishing house will represent you if the story and the writing are good, so they need to actually read the manuscript. Non-fiction adheres to a completely different set of rules. If I wanted to write a book on how women should invest their money, I would write a non-fiction proposal before writing an actual book, and that proposal would describe my outline, my credentials (I better know something about investing … and women!), my platform (hopefully I have some articles printed in boring money magazines or I’ve been interviewed on this topic for the news), etc etc. Same thing if I want to write a book on the history of wine production in France. I need to present to an agent and publisher why I’m the best person to write that book (and it can’t just be because I like wine … and France!), especially if I expect them to pay me to go there and “research” for a year.

So, anyway, even though memoir is technically non-fiction, most agents want it submitted like fiction: Write the book first, make sure it’s really good and then send out sample pages. The idea is that it’s the writing and the story that will sell that book, not the credentials or platform of the author. So, this one agent I pitched to in New York, who mostly reps non-fiction, asked me send in a non-fiction book proposal. Of course, I’ve never written a book proposal before. So, after putting it off as long as I could, I finally pounded one out, including market data on cancer memoirs versus mommy memoirs (“momoirs”), hunting down website statistics for St. Baldrick’s and Carepages, listing the speeches I’ve given over the years to various organizations about Austin’s cancer. I finally sent it in yesterday only to find this message in my inbox this morning: “Krissy (my name again)…It was lovely to meet you and I appreciate the chance to read this. I have, however, decided to stop representing memoirs as I just couldn’t land them. I wish you all the best …”

Oy vey.

But, hey, I’m a glass-half-full kind of gal, so at least I have three agents left. And my top two among them. Plus, now I have a non-fiction proposal in case anyone ever wants one!

When I was in eight grade, we had an assembly and, while I can’t remember what on earth it was about, I do know that the man up on stage opened up by asking us our definition of success: What does it mean to be successful? I quickly rose my hand and offered my answer: “Being happy.” And I got laughed at.

Now, I was a very popular middle schooler and knew that my peers and classmates weren’t laughing at me so much as at the radical notion of success being defined, not by money or fame or power, but by something as ordinary and seemingly achievable as happiness.

But, after the death this weekend of another icon of my middle school years, I stand by my pronouncement. I was never a huge Whitney Houston fan, she didn’t sing my favorite ever song and I certainly hadn’t given her much thought over the past ten (or twenty) years. But, as I found myself singing “Greatest Love of All” and still knowing every single word by heart, I must acknowledge that she is undoubtedly part of the soundtrack of my life. From eight grade graduation to school dances to “One Moment In Time” (and imagined greatness on the field hockey field), her songs and her voice provide a backdrop to my adolescence.

And, as she joins others from those mid-80s glory days (The Kind of Pop, of course, and movie stars like River Phoenix, who we all loved), I know that the brave fourteen year old girl who equated happiness with success was right. I would take my life over their’s any day.

For the two weeks following my return from the writing conference, I spent every day revising my book (you know, when I wasn’t busy planning one major event or another … or another). I read through the entire thing, revising word by word and page by page. I was feeling pretty good about it and was easily able to submit the first fifty pages to four of the agents who requested that particular amount. Because I had one agent who wanted the entire manuscript, I kept on, digging deep into the later sections of the book. I had a few moments when I’d come across a page or a section and would pause and wonder why I hadn’t already changed that part. There were a few scenes and pages that I thought I had drastically revised, only to find they were the same as they’d been more than a year ago.

But I carried on, making small tweaks and sweeping changes, … until last Wednesday night at 11:15 when I scrolled to page 223 and realized, with a sickening drop in my stomach: This was not my finished book. These were notes. Literally, notes to myself, things like “Add Dec 14 surgery here; rounds with the docs, plans to remove kidney — include Nurse Shannon.” Notes, shorthand, to myself! But I had already finished my book.  I knew I had finished it, I had blogged about it, for crying out loud, and that definitely makes it true. I had even printed up a hard copy for my mom and she’d read the whole thing … I remember. But this version, saved on my trusty little Store n Go device, was not it.

It was really time for me to go to bed, but after a few minutes lying there I got back up to check our other computer. I found a slightly newer version and, after quickly scrolled through the final forty or so pages, discovered that it was better than the one I’d been working on, but still not done. This was still not it. I finally went to bed, worried but absolutely convinced that I had another verison, another more complete version. I had to have another version.

The next day, I searched around for a hard copy but knew that I’d probably used it as scrap paper (no blank white side is safe in this house). Finally, I conducted a full search of my computer and … whaddya know? It appeared in an auto-recovery file … from the trash. Holy crap, at some point, nearly a year ago, I failed to save my damn book. But there it was. Thank god computers never really throw anything away.

I quickly cut and paste the last forty-five pages onto the version I’d been poring over and, upon rereading it, was more relieved than ever to have found it. It is good. And good in a way that would have been very hard to recreate. My opening pages I could recite verbatim, I’ve read them so many damn times. But the ending was new to me, the words were fresh, the emotion was raw — I cried all over again as that kidney slowly began to heal itself. It was good good good. And it was finished.

So, after going through to make sure there weren’t other revisions in the one verison that were better than my more recent revisions in the other version, I attached the whole darn thing, all 84, 212 words of it and sent it off through cyber space.

And now we wait.

 

Now that we have those beautiful posters, we need to get them out!

Please let me know if you want posters and and other promotional materials for your school or youth group. I have a letter that can go to your PTA or school counselor explaining the event, plus a list of tips for making it more exciting (everything from challenging a teacher to shave if a certain amount of money is raised to allowing registered shavees to come to school on Friday March 9 with green hair). I have flyers that can be customized by schools that can go home with every student, and a small stack of pocket brochures complete with our event’s information for interested students.

If you own or work in a business that would be willing to collect cash donations for our specific event, I have small circle “badges” where donors can write their name that can then be posted on your wall. (You know, how they do it at grocery stores if you give an extra dollar or five to combat hunger.)

The event itself is shaping up to be quite fun. I have twelve girls from an Irish dancing troupe who will come from Akron and do a half-hour performance.  They will then stay to teach their moves to any interested parties. This should be especially fun for the sisters of shavees who might otherwise be bored (unless we can convince them to get up there themselves!). I think I also have the award-winning acapella Barber Shoppers from Heights High coming to serenade us.

I’ve been talking with our mayor about encouraging a friendly competition between the local police and fire departments, so we’ll see if I’m successful on that front. But that would be pretty cool for the kids, especially if the fire trucks appear.

And perhaps most excitingly, we have a female teacher at Fairfax willing to shave her head if her school’s team raises at least $5000. My dear friend and old colleague Kristi Glasier has sacrificed herself up as the motivator for her students to get in on the act and raise some serious money.  In light of that, I have convinced Braedan to change his team name from Team Braedan to Team Fairfax. His team, as of this writing, is still only one shavee strong (ie, Braedan) but we have verbal promises from many. Any current or former Fairfax students are welcome. Kristi is fundraising on her own head with the hopes of raising an additional $10,000! So visit her page and help her reach that goal.

If you’re willing to do this, please sign up right now! Event page here, Team Austin here and Team Fairfax here. If you’re signing up more than one child in your household, you’ll need to create two different user names and passwords and then log in separately for each shavee. You can then personalize their pages with photos and messages.  The easiest way to fundraise is to send a mass email to your friends, neighbors, family and colleagues with a link to your child’s page. People can then donate directly to their page using their credit card (which saves the organization both time and money).

If you’re still interested in helping out on that day, I’m planning to have baked goods: one free item to registered shavees and available for $1 to all others, so baking cookies is definitely on the list of tasks. Besides that, we’ll need some sort of drinks (anyone have an in with a grocery store to request donated water bottles or juice boxes?) and green balloons in the front of the Community Center. Oh, I would love to have the event photographed (using something other than a cell phone!), so that may be a good way to get involved.

And — not to be forgotten — Mark has indeed signed up and will be shaving as the captain of Team Gallagher down at AJ Rocco’s on St Patty’s Day. He needs some brave souls to join him! If you (or your husband) really want to shave alongside your child, it’s fine to register at the Cleveland Heights event. Otherwise, join the adult fun after the St Patrick’s Day parade and be part of the throngs of shavees at one of the country’s most successful St. Baldrick’s events. You won’t regret it!

All are welcome that day to cheer on the shavees, whether you’re leaving bald or not. And, of course, donate donate DONATE.

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February 2012
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