Volunteers shave heads for the fight against childhood cancer

In the fight against childhood cancer, the UC Davis Cancer Center and deVere’s Irish Pub are working together to sponsor this year’s St. Baldrick’s day events, which are hosted and organized by Keaton Raphael Memorial.

During these events, volunteers of all ages will shave their heads to raise money for pediatric cancer research. The first event will take place today at 5 p.m. at the deVere’s Irish Pub in Sacramento, followed by another event this Thursday at 5 p.m. at the deVere’s Irish pub in Davis.

Henry deVere White ­­— son of Dr. Ralph W. deVere White, the director of the UC Davis Cancer Center­­ — decided to hold the St. Baldrick’s events at his pubs as a way to give back to his father’s life long mission to cure cancer.

“Historically, St. Baldrick’s started in pubs,” deVere White said. “It started in Boston with a couple lawyers who decided to raise $17,000 on the 17th of March. It’s now turned into this international organization that [raises money for pediatric cancer research]. My argument to my father was that it was time to bring it back to the pubs.”

The St. Baldrick’s Foundation is a volunteer-based charity committed to funding research to find cures for childhood cancer. Since 2000, the charity has raised over $117 million dollars for life-saving research and is second only to the government for the funding of pediatric cancer research.

This year marks the 10-year anniversary that the Keaton Raphael Memorial has hosted the St. Baldrick’s events in the Davis area. During those 10 years they have locally raised over $4 million, according to deVere White.

The money raised goes specifically toward pediatric cancer research and services for families going through a pediatric cancer diagnosis.

Last year, the UC Davis Cancer Center received $100,000 from St. Baldrick’s to conduct pediatric stem cell research.

Knowing how important charities like the St. Baldrick’s Foundation are for cancer research, UC Davis Cancer Center employees Leslie Garcia and Nicole Ekedahl were motivated to show their support. At the Sacramento Kings game on March 1, Garcia and Ekedahl shaved their heads early to promote the St. Baldrick’s events going on this week.

Garcia said that despite her nerves at first, it ended up being a truly exciting experience.

“You think you’re going to be nervous about it, but with all the support I got from family and friends, from donations, from coworkers, I just really felt compelled to do it and I felt so proud to do it,” Garcia said.

Among those shaving their heads in Davis on Thursday is 5-year-old Zoe Olavarri. She was diagnosed with an adult form of cancer that 20 years ago would have been terminal. However, thanks to the pediatric cancer research funded by the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, she is alive today. She is shaving her head in solidarity with other kids fighting cancer.

deVere White was touched by Zoe’s pledge and encourages everyone in the Davis community to come together to raise money for other children fighting cancer.

“A lot of times, you have people who are celebrating their fifth or 10th year in a row doing it. We’ve had baseball teams show up and shave their heads in honor of one of their teammates. Mothers doing it for their sons and daughters. Sisters doing it for their brothers to let them know that it’s okay they lost their hair,” he said. “That’s really what it is, a way to raise money and tell little kids, ‘It’s okay if you lose your hair, because look, I’m doing it.’”

At the end of the day, the St. Baldrick’s events raise awareness about pediatric cancer, raise money for pediatric cancer research and connect colleagues throughout the region all working to find answers for childhood cancer, said Dorsey Griffith, senior public information officer at the UC Davis Health System/Cancer Center.

“It’s an inspirational event for everyone involved, whether you’re having your head shaved, watching a loved one have their head shaved, or simply cheering on friends and making a contribution, because you know that when it’s all over, you will have supported childhood cancer research, and that’s what we need to do,” Griffith said.

If you would like to sign up to be a shavee or donate, go to getbald.org. There is still time to form a team and make donations at both events.

MICHELLE MURPHY can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.