On March 8, the patio of de Vere’s Irish Pub (de Vere’s) was full of applause, raised glasses and hair as participants young and old shaved their heads to raise awareness and funds for childhood cancer research through the St. Baldrick’s Foundation and Keaton Raphael Memorial (KRM).
This is the third year the head shaving fundraiser has been held at de Vere’s in Davis, and is the 12th year since the Northern California non-profit KRM has partnered with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation in the Sacramento region to raise funds for local and national research. With 899 shavees, the organization has raised $354,179 so far this year.
With barber services provided by SuperCuts, children and businesses raised over $1,000 each with the help of sponsors who supported community members as they stood in solidarity with cancer youth, making a “bald statement.”
“It’s a very powerful day,” said Henry de Vere White, who co-owns de Vere’s. “It’s a public, physical demonstration that this battle can be won, that if you are doing it you’re not alone. People come together and they rally around [childhood cancer] but I think that when people get here and they see people [shaving their heads] it all of a sudden clicks and they see what we need to do. It’s very emotional for some people too because maybe it’s in honor of a child they’ve lost or a brother, sister, aunt; everyone’s been touched in one point in their life by cancer.”
Mother and son Lesah and Josh Ross were two such participants. Josh, after having worked at de Vere’s and participating a year previous, held his mother’s hand throughout her first head shaving experience.
“I was introduced to [the event] by Josh and inspired by him, but also I worked with babies for several years as a physical therapist. [There were] a lot of babies who didn’t grow up to be adults and [I] watched families go through that,” Lesah said. “I love to see the kids doing it because the kids that are giving up their hair are normalizing for those who are going through chemotherapy that there are many reasons you would be walking around with a bald head.”
They were both personally affected by cancer as March 8 marked the 25th anniversary of Josh’s grandmother’s death from cancer.
“A good portion of our family on [my mom’s] side didn’t make it to meet me and my brother,” Josh said. “[Shaving your head] is something that takes very little and gives a whole lot.”
KRM, which manages head shaving fundraisers at the Westfield Galleria in Roseville and also at both de Vere’s Irish Pubs in Sacramento and Davis, among other events, seeks to not only raise funds but also to raise awareness about childhood cancer, according to Dana Pearson, development coordinator of KRM.
According to St. Baldrick’s, every three minutes a child is diagnosed with cancer and only four percent of federal funding is allocated to childhood cancer research.
“Our mission is to focus on the family as a whole and we provide them with emotional, educational and financial support from the moment their child is diagnosed and referred to us [by local hospitals] and then from there we have a family navigator who stays with them through their cancer journey,” Pearson said. “About 96 percent of our families are low-income so they can’t afford to do [certain leisure activities] on a normal day, and when their child turns up with childhood cancer it knocks their income in half or even more than that sometimes. So it’s really important for us to be there. For financial assistance, providing $500 to someone who’s lost both their jobs is vital and can help them out immensely for the time being.”
Based in Roseville, KRM’s creation in 1998 was inspired by the loss of 5-year-old Keaton Raphael to neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nervous system. After noticing the lack of resources available to those in their situation, parents Robyn and Kyle Raphael founded KRM to specifically aid families through cancer battles.
According to White, Robyn Raphael was instrumental in starting the St. Baldrick’s events in the area, initially reaching out to his father, who works at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, to coordinate a fundraising event.
“If your kid came down with cancer and you had a mortgage payment [Raphael] would find you a mortgage payment,” White said. “If you couldn’t read the insurance paperwork she’d help you navigate the system. If your kid needed a teddy bear a teddy bear was brought to the hospital.”
After seeing the success of his father and Raphael’s fundraising initiative at the UC Davis Cancer Center, White recalled that though St. Baldrick’s was established in 2005 as an independent foundation, it originally began as a head shaving challenge among colleagues in a Jim Brady’s Irish Pub and Restaurant in Manhattan in 2000. Twelve years later, St. Baldrick’s had reached its $100 million mark in research grant funding. White asked his father to move the event to the pub, and he agreed under one stipulation: out-fundraise his previous effort.
“As my dad will admit, people like going to the pub and they like having a beer while they do it and they like rooting their friends and family on,” White said. “Obviously, I’m bald so [I can’t shave]. But this year we did a toy drive and instead I dressed up like an Oompa Loompa, so that way I could show I’ll do anything for kids, I’ll do anything to help.”
However, behind the lighthearted socializing and fundraising is a serious cause. Pearson said that the St. Baldrick’s events are where the fundraised research dollars come in. Those dollars go to research locally at Raman Project Center for Biophotonics, the Pediatric Clinical Trials Program and the Novel Targeted Therapy for Childhood Cancers, all here at UC Davis. Nationally, all of these organizations work toward finding a cure.
“My mom is a breast cancer survivor and my good friend passed away last year from breast cancer. This job [with KRM] came around that same time, so it was like a calling for me,” Pearson said. “I was in sales before this so it was just, get the sale and move on, but with this it’s passionate and for a great cause and it’s wonderful to know we come to work every day to make a difference in these childrens’ lives and their families.”
White had similar experiences and sentiments about the issue.
“People have a way of associating [cancer] as an old person thing and [think] they will never get it,” White said, “but when my friend who I went to high school with passed away on her 35th birthday when she beat cancer [previously] then it came back and it decimated her, it was really hard to look at your friend who’s extremely healthy and watch them go through that. And if you’re a parent, which I am, and you have to look at your 7-year-old and explain to them why they’re hurting or why they might not get better or why they might not see their next birthday, everyone can agree that that shouldn’t happen. That’s not fair.”
White further said that the participation for his Davis event has not been half the size of his Sacramento event, which he has hosted for six years. However, with the community vibe of Davis, he sees lots of potential to further support this cause.
“Out here [in Davis] it hasn’t really picked up the way that it has in Sacramento,” White said. “My challenge for next year is [finding] who at UC Davis can help me recruit people to do this, who can help drum up more teams and help me find ways to engage the community to participate. We’re just a couple bartenders who opened up a pub that people have embraced, and since we have access to people and have a venue where they can meet at, it’s the least we could do for our father’s dream to cure cancer. This is our mission every year.”