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I’m gonna say the same thing here that I say every year, because it’s the only thing that deserves to be said at this moment:

THANK YOU.

I am humbled and honored to be able to bring this event to this community and I am humbled and honored by how enthusiastically this community embraces this event. Your eager participation and your incredible generosity, both of spirit and of all things tangible, are beyond measure.

As of right now, between our online donations and the cash and checks we collected today, we’ve raised $98,673. I have no doubt that we will creep over the $100,000 mark in the next few days and even reach our very ambitious goal of $111,000 by the time the fiscal year ends in June. (That means you can keep giving, people!)

There were quite a few highly emotional moments today that I’ll share in the next few posts, but for now, please rub your fuzzy heads, pat yourselves on the back, hug a bald person, and watch Fox 8 news in the morning (8am?) to see Braedan, already bald, and his classmate Joey, who’s shaving on the air, tell you why they do what they do.

I truly thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I guess people really needed to hear those words: Your work is not in vain, because that post was by far the most viewed and most shared one I’ve ever written. It’s not the best I’ve ever written, but the message undoubtedly resonated with people. We are hungry to know we are not alone in this fight (any fight) and that our advocacy does matter.

In a nice segue to that other cause that keeps me busy, I received a message last week from one of Austin’s old nurses at Rainbow. This is a woman I haven’t seen or heard from in years and I have to admit it took me a second to recognize her name since I knew her best before she was married. But she drew the parallel between that post and my work on behalf of St. Baldrick’s and said that I had long given a voice to children with cancer and their families and that what I attempt to accomplish with my event is, . . . you guessed it, “not in vain.”

Sometimes my success on that front feels small in light of such an enormous problem. The ten or twenty dollar donations I beg for, that one extra shavee I somehow convince to join us . . . how could any of this make a difference when we’re talking about thousands upon thousands of sick children and millions upon billions of dollars needed for research?

But it’s not small. It’s actually quite big.

Here’s what’s big: We have 133 people signed up to shave their heads next weekend. And more signing on every day. And a fair number of them are women and girls. That’s no small feat. Here’s what else is big: They’ve raised almost $50,000 for childhood cancer research. And by “almost,” I mean that by the time I post this, we’ll probably be there.

Here’s another thing that’s big: A grandmother who has signed up to shave her head not because any of her children or grandchildren have ever had cancer. But precisely because they haven’t. She feels just thankful enough and just lucky enough to be willing to do this on behalf of someone else. Someone she doesn’t even know.

Here’s what else is big: Rebecca has been gone for nine months but she looms large in the minds of many. She is so, so far from forgotten. Next Sunday, a cadre of her friends, from her earliest babyhood playmates to the classmates she never had enough time with, are either shaving their heads or cutting their hair in her memory. And she was never even bald. She held on to that crazy mass of curls until her last day on this earth. But still, they will sit up there, these little six-year olds who should never have to fathom such big and scary things, and they will shave their own heads for her.

And yet, it’s not really for her and they all know that. No amount of heads shaved, no amount of money raised, will ever bring her back, will ever make her well. But they will do this anyway. And that is big.

Rebecca’s best friend, the frick to her frack, is a six-year old first grader at Fairfax. She loves princesses, much as Rebecca did, and usually wears her long light brown hair in a braid down her back. I don’t know her all that well, but I feel pretty safe in calling her a girly girl. And my assumption about girly girls is that they like their hair. Or they at least like to have hair. But nine days from now, Ruthie will be bald. Bald. And not only that, but her father, her mother and her four-year old brother will be bald alongside her.

None of that will bring Rebecca back. None of it will make them miss her any less than they do today. But they will do it anyway. So that no other six-year old has to lose her best friend.

And THAT is big.

A couple of times on Sunday, I referred to people’s inner beauty, as in, “These girls are showing us what it means to be beautiful on the inside,” implying, of course, that they were no longer beautiful on the outside.  But I was all wrong.

They are indeed beautiful on the outside. I just needed my own definition of beauty challenged by them. By you. All of you.

Sunday was full of beauty; it was all around us.

This is the beauty of family: Father and son working together to save one of their own (and remembering to have fun in the process).

And this is the beauty of family: A father shaving in solidarity with his son, whose bald head took some getting used to.

This is the beauty of small people doing big things:

This is multiple generations of beauty: grandmother and granddaughter watching the mother shave her head.

Contemplation can be beautiful:
Courage can be beautiful:
And pride can be beautiful:
Beauty is young:
And old (relatively speaking, at least!):
And male:
And female:
And this is the beauty of friendship:

If you want a few more examples of beauty, check out the first wave of photos here. More to come shortly.

I am beyond exhausted so this will be the short one.

But I am also beyond thrilled and beyond touched and beyond awed by what I saw today. The incredible outpouring of support and love, friendship and bravery, kindness and generosity left me breathless.  I am so honored to have been able to bring this event to so many people and I am so moved by all those who have embraced it with such enthusiasm.

As of this moment, counting the $101,116 we’ve raised online and the $2,450 check we expect from the lunchroom competitions at Roxboro Middle School, and the Bake Sale and American Girl Doll proceeds, and the cash and checks turned in today, we should (at this moment in time) have raised $108,257.

Wow. Just wow.

My local readers: Please promise me that tomorrow, wherever you go about town, if you see a bald man, woman, boy or girl, you stop and tell them good job.  Good job, my bald friends, good good job.

In four more days, I will be surrounded by bald heads. In fact, many of you reading this will be surrounded by bald heads. In addition to the 160 registered participants at my event this Sunday (you read that right: 160 participants!), another 114 students will shave at University School on Friday (and yes, as of this moment in time, we ARE beating them in the fundraising department), plus 56 people at Rainbow on Friday morning, 180 in Rocky River on Saturday and 70 more at A. J.Rocco’s on Monday. So we should ALL be surrounded by bald heads by this time next week.

What an extraordinary year this is turning out to be.  I am completely blown away by the enthusiasm and generosity of spirit that this has generated in our community.  We have four elementary teams from the Cleveland Heights-University Heights district, plus Roxboro Middle School and two teams at Heights High, in addition to four elementary teams from Shaker, one from Lakewood and another 24-member strong team from Gesu School in University Heights.  Imagine what those school hallways will look like on Monday as those brave children walk proudly to their classes.

Oh, and have I mentioned the money we’ve raised? My initial goal was $60,000, but we are now over $70,000 and I think I need to up our current goal of $75,000 yet again. We have blown past every expectation I’ve had for what this year could become. More people, more schools, more money. I am so so thrilled (and a little nervous about how the whole thing will roll out on Sunday), but mostly I am moved.

I am moved by the number of young children stepping forward to stand in solidarity with those in treatment. I am moved by the number of girls and women (19 in all!) who are loudly proclaiming that how they look does not define how beautiful they are.  I am moved by the number of teachers sitting side by side with their students as live out this lesson in generosity. I am moved by the mothers and fathers and sister and brothers and friends of survivors and those currently in the fight who are saying, “You don’t have to go this alone. I am right here with you all the way.” I am moved and deeply saddened as I read through the donations on my participants’ pages and see how many people give “in memory” of someone.

We have lost too many people already. All of us have: parents and grandparents, siblings, friends and spouses, and — saddest of all — children. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can do better. The grants that St Baldrick’s awards to doctors and researchers truly do better; they are making a difference. And so are all of you, by shaving, by cutting, by volunteering, by raising money and by giving money. We are doing better.

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St. Baldrick’s is less than one month away and we are well on our way to the most successful year yet. As of this moment, there are 84 people signed up and nearly $17,000 raised.  This is way ahead of where we’ve been in the past, so I am super excited, especially since the vast majority of fundraising tends to happen in the final week.

I feel like the movement I’ve been hoping to start in our community is really and truly happening.  We have teams of kids from four elementary schools in CH-UH and four in Shaker plus a Gesu Team, a Rox Middle team, and several from Heights High. We also have tons of girls, not just cutting and donating their hair, but many actually shaving, including four Heights High girls (the Bald Babes) and 4th graders from both RoxEl and Fairfax and my sweet little friend Sara Schubert, a Fairfax second grader. These girls display a sense of self-confidence and self-awareness that is most impressive to me.  I’ve spoken with several of them about their decision, trying to make sure that they understand the impact of what they’re doing (as well as the dreadfully slow growing-out period they’ll have to endure!). They’ve all responded to me with such maturity and careful thought, that I am sort of blown away. We hear a lot in today’s society about how girls are bombarded with princess images and made to believe that their looks are of singular importance in their lives. And yet these girls have stated their goals with such simple clarity, as though physical appearance were far down on their list of defining characteristics: “I know I may look funny, but I’m doing to for something good so that’s okay.” Or, “Well, I think I’ll look cool with a shaved head!” I am completely moved by their commitment and their gutsiness and can’t wait to celebrate them at our event.

Another thing that I’m very excited about for this year is that I’ve finally convinced Mark to shave at my event instead of downtown like he usually does.  This is his seventh year, which means he’ll get inducted into the Knights of the Bald Table, an exclusive St Baldrick’s club for long-term shavees (that’s written with a wink and a nudge since there are no real perks to such knighthood). But now I will have the honor of knighting him, which I believe will be highly motivating to the kids present who are in their second or third year of shaving. Braedan will be next in that regard and is already eagerly awaiting his own knighthood in two years.

All in all, I think this event is extremely empowering for young people, as it gives them an opportunity to truly make a difference in their world. They are giving away a literal piece of themselves on behalf of others, and while it’s certainly a fun and cool thing to participate in with their friends, it is also a meaningful and often very powerful experience. I am so proud to be able to bring them this chance to change the course of someone’s life, as they raise money to save the next kid diagnosed, someone they don’t and will likely never know.  We have a seventh grader from Rox Middle who’s currently in treatment for leukemia and his mother said he was initially very hesitant about being honored by this event, as he’s usually the one raising money or doing good for others. I told her to make sure he knows that his participation in this event is for others. Unless he remains in treatment for many many years (which I sincerely hope he doesn’t), the money that is raised today in his name and in his honor will be used for treatments for some child diagnosed well into the future. Likewise for Austin, who is always a bit overwhelmed (and even surprised) by the number of kids who say they’re doing this for him, while Austin will never benefit from the new cancer research that gets funded by St Baldrick’s. At least, I hope he won’t since I hope he never needs treatment for cancer again. If we wanted to do something truly for him, we’d raise money for kidney research! But this isn’t about us, this is about the families who come next, the families that don’t yet know their world will be rocked by childhood cancer. This is to ease the path of the next child and the next mother and the next brother who have to bear this terrible burden.

This is why we do what we do. This is why people shave. And this is why we come to you year after year asking for your financial support. I will keep coming back to you because you also have the chance and the power to change the course of someone’s life. You too can sign up to shave your head, by linking to our event page here. Or you can make a donation on the heads of any of these brave men, women and children. Austin is here, Braedan here and Mark here.

On behalf of my extremely lucky family and on behalf of all those who don’t yet know how unlucky they may be, we thank you.

Ok, so that was an unintended hiatus.  I guess blogging is sort of like exercise in that the longer you go without doing it, the harder it is to ever start doing it again.  Anyway, here’s the post-St Baldrick’s wrap-up I started writing a full three weeks ago.

Another St Baldrick’s season has come to a close.  St. Patrick’s Day was great, as always, even with the shift in time and the cold gray weather. Mark is bald once again, time number eight if you count the two at-home shaves he did prior to Austin’s first and second rounds of chemo.  This time he was joined by our friend Sagi, who had a serious head of hair:

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(Mark’s sacrifice wasn’t quite so big….)

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The morning after St Patrick’s Day, I attended a breakfast at Rainbow with the CEO of the national St. Baldrick’s Foundation, as well as the St Baldrick’s-funded research team at Rainbow (almost all bald) and the organizers of all the local events, which totaled eight and raised over $495,000, making Cleveland a force to be reckoned with in the world of pediatric cancer research. I should mention that our little Cleveland Heights event is hovering a mere $540 below my grand goal of $45,000 and is in fifth place in the state of Ohio for dollars raised.

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It was very inspiring to hear Kathleen speak and to be surrounded by so many other people putting their hearts and souls (and hair) into this cause.  She talked a lot about the changing face of research funding in our country given the economy and how bleak the prospects are for the coming years, mentioning that the St. Baldrick’s board of directors would really like to transform this once unknown organization based on the crazy idea of a couple of guys from a 33-million-dollar-a-year bit player into a 100-million-dollar-a-year big time player. This is, of course, wildly ambitious and will take an enormous effort on behalf of all the St. Baldrick’s foot soldiers around the country, but I do believe it can be done. And I believe it must. And I believe that we, right here in Cleveland and right here at the Community Center, can help make that happen.

I will come calling . . .

Pride gets a bad rap. You know, being one of the seven deadly sins and all. I don’t really get it (I’m not anti-lust either, but we don’t need to go there). I mean, I see how pride can be a negative, if you’re excessively proud without good reason, if you’re proud of the wrong things (your looks, your wealth, your power). But I also see pride as an appropriate reward for doing what’s right and as a motivator to do what’s right again.

Those kids — and adults — who shaved their heads last week were proud of themselves. Deservedly so. They should feel pride; they earned it. Their pride will be one of the reasons they come back and do this again next year. Or it will spur them on to take other forms of positive action in the world.

I felt proud when Braedan told me I “do great things.” It didn’t make me want to sit back and rest on my laurels; it made me want to do more great things, if for no other reason than to show my children the impact they can have on the world.

Pride is beautiful too; especially when it shines innocently on the face of a child who has just discovered an empowered sense of self or on a parent who has watched their baby do something big and wonderful.  Just look at these:

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Here’s another boy who should be mighty proud of himself. Spencer signed up a mere ten days before the event and managed to raise $1,180 without a single donation over $100. Fifty-three different people contributed on his head. Fifty-three! What an incredible show of support that is. (And what a lot of Thank You notes he has to write!)

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And then there’s this guy, probably the proudest of the bunch. And with good reason. In the four years that Braedan has shaved his head in solidarity with his brother, he has raised an incredibly impressive $13,153 for the St Baldrick’s Foundation. Ponder that for a moment. $13,153, . . . from a child. No wonder he looks like this:

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Even the smallest among us can feel pride. One of my favorite St. Baldrick’s moments this year happened two days after the event, when I received a surprising text from my sister-in-law. My nephew Hill, who was still two on Sunday but has since turned three, announced at the dinner table Tuesday night that he wanted to shave his head too, like his big brother and cousins. Up went the family, straight to the bathroom for the clippers, and what emerged is our youngest-ever (and plenty proud) shavee:

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And here’s another thing to be proud of. For every single person who shaved their head or every single person who donated a few bucks, this is for you:

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And moments like this:

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So hold you heads high and be proud. You deserve it.

I should start by saying we have now raised $43,291, including the checks I mailed today (which won’t likely show up on individual shavee pages for a few weeks).  Which means that we are a mere $1,709 away from my original and very ambitious $45,000 goal. Which also means that if every one of the 75 shavees raised just $23 more, we would reach that goal. Twenty-three dollars!  Let’s do this, people.

More pictures and more stories: We had a lot of school teams this year, which is exactly what I want this event to become and what I hope drives our numbers up even higher in the future. Fernway School in Shaker, home to two preschool buddies of Braedan and Austin, fielded a team of ten kids and one dad and is poised to grow by leaps and bounds next year.

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There were also five kindergarten students from Gesu who shaved, many of them for the second time.

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And then there was the Heights High team (of course, one of my favorites), the Buzz Buddies. This one was spearheaded by a girl, a 17-year-old senior who shaved her head clean bald. I have to admit, these are the ones that get me the most, because it’s something I would never have been brave enough to do as a 17-year-old girl. I was gusty (still am), but not that gutsy (still aren’t). So I watched in awe as Katy raised significant sums of money and rounded up five of her (male) friends to join her and then hopped into that chair without a second thought.

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And of course, there was a Team Roxboro, another personal favorite. This one was captained by our sweet friend Charlie who, as a first grader, has raised more than $2000 in his two years shaving, and was joined this year by his uncle.

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And there was the hard-to-beat Team Fairfax, with fourteen students and one mom (who cut and donated). I think it’s safe to say that it’s cooler to be bald in that building this week than not. And I can pretty much guarantee that their academic performance has improved now that they can see the board. Just look at this shaggy-haired bunch of ragamuffins:

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I have still more to post tomorrow, but in the meantime, check out this photo gallery.

I had my own hero moment on Sunday afternoon, an all-this-work-over-the-past-few-months-planning-organizing-scheduling-emailing-promoting-reminding-pleading-prodding-begging-nagging has been worth it kind of moment, when we got into the car to go home and Braedan said, “Thanks, mom. You do great things.”

Thank you, thank you, thank you. To everyone. To all of the hundreds of people who donated money on the heads of our shavees. To our tireless barbers from Quintana’s and Shawn Paul for putting everyone at ease and working without complaint in such good spirits for so many hours. To Mike Kenney who entertained the kids with juggling and balloon art. To all of my friends (including both my mom and my honey) who volunteered their afternoon to check people in, collect cash and checks (tougher than it sounds), sell baked goods or take more than 1,500 pictures (Dallas was a busy woman!). Thank you to everyone (I have no idea who) who baked those yummy looking treats, which brought in an additional $220. And of course, the biggest and most enthusiastic THANK YOU to every man, woman and child who shaved their head or cut and donated their hair.

As of this moment in time, we have raised $43,101.71. Yup, that’s right: seventy-one cents. I wasn’t kidding when I said every penny counts. And the total continues to rise online. We may reach my original $45,000 goal after all.

That is really something. Really really something to be proud of, for all involved, certainly not just me. And more than anything, everyone should be proud of the very brave souls who climbed into those barber chairs and allowed strangers to shave their heads completely bald. It is not a small thing to do. It is a big thing, even for the men with little hair. Even for the littlest kids who don’t care what they look like. Especially for the women and girls who do. It is a serious and powerful statement to make to the children currently battling cancer. And to all those who love them.

I’m only gonna mange to tell a couple of the stories tonight, so you’ll all have to check back tomorrow. But let’s start with the father-son team who went head-to-head in a heated battle to see who could raise more money.  The younger won (ah, youth always wins, doesn’t it?), by about $80, but together they raised more than $6000. Now that’s a competition we can all support.

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We don’t actually know them all that well, but when asked why they shave, the father simply said, “We do this for Austin.”

And then there was Erica, who emailed me out of the blue a few months ago asking if women could join our event too. “Sure,” I told her, knowing women generate lots of buzz (and donations!). She wasn’t the first or only woman to sign up, but I could tell from the beginning that she was serious about this. She was driven, as I mentioned in an earlier post, by an intense fear that one of her young children might one day have cancer. And like a true hero, not one spurred into action by disaster that’s already struck, she saw this as an opportunity to do something before she was ever impacted. To do something right now. And boy, did she ever. Erica raised more than $3000, taking the coveted first place fundraising spot for our event. And she did it with courage and grace and beauty.

DSC_6828DSC_6947DSC_6971 DSC_7008 DSC_7019 Isn’t that such a great shot?

There were so many more fabulous parts to the day but a picture is worth a thousand words and I have a few hundred pictures, so I’m going to add some more here and then post again tomorrow, including about a mother-daughter team and all the CHUH kids. I’m still working on a public photo gallery on Flickr, but it’s not quite ready. For now, I’m inspired by this image that was posted on the St Baldrick’s Facebook page last week:

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And here are our very own, “Oh my god, I’m actually doing this!” photos:

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And with those slightly stunned, pretty excited and damn proud faces, I leave you. But only until tomorrow, I promise.

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