More than 1,000 people packed Cricket Square on Friday evening for the 4th annual Hannah’s Heroes Big Shave to raise funds for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, the largest private funder of pediatric cancer research.
A total of 118 men, women and children shaved their heads to raise funds and show their solidarity with children fighting cancer, who often lose their hair following chemotherapy treatment.
Amongst the freshly shorn volunteers were the parents of Cayman’s childhood cancer survivors, Nigel and Gaylene Meeson, whose daughter Hannah was diagnosed with medulloblastoma in 2012; Trent and Belinda Grant, parents to leukemia survivor Tayden, age 9; Woody Foster, whose 9-year old daughter Charli was diagnosed with leukemia at age 2; and Richard Reading, father of 5-year-old Annabelle, also a leukemia survivor. Also present was 6-year old Beau Shields who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at the age of 5 months.
Mrs. Meeson, who started Hannah’s Heroes four years ago, now lives in Hong Kong and returned to Cayman to help organize the event. She welcomed the crowd praising the Cayman community’s continued support of fundraising for research and led an emotional prayer, “The Prayer of the Bald Momma,” written by Mechon Evangelista-Ebanks, mother of 3-year-old Mimi, who was diagnosed with brain cancer at only six weeks of age.
“We are just blown away by the Cayman community,” Mrs. Meeson commented on the large turnout at this year’s event.
Speaking to the Cayman Compass, she explained that it is her mission to find cures for childhood cancer.
“Hannah was diagnosed in 2012 and when she relapsed in 2013, they told us that she had less than a 5 percent chance of surviving. And that’s because of a lack of research, basically across all the different childhood cancers. You cannot relapse. You have to kill it the first time and we didn’t. We are now part of this 5 percent club. Hannah has to fight the statistics because she is still alive,” Mrs. Meeson said.
“I made it my mission to raise money for research and to raise money for the St. Baldrick’s foundation because they fund childhood cancer research and they do it well.”
The general lack of pediatric cancer research also extends to the development of drugs. Very few cancer drugs are designed especially for children. As a result, most kids with cancer receive treatments that are not as effective and suffer more serious side effects when they have to take drugs that are approved for adults.
Only three childhood cancer drugs have been approved by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration in the past five years. St. Baldrick’s was instrumental in funding the research for the most recent childhood cancer drug that was approved by the FDA in 2015.
Since 2005, the foundation has donated more than $200 million in the form of 962 grants to more than 358 institutions in 26 countries.
Now in its fourth year, Hannah’s Heroes is one of the most successful shave events in the world for St. Baldrick’s, said the charity’s Hero Fund Manager Kelly Forebaugh.
“Last year there were over 1,000 events in the United States and abroad that were put on by volunteers and communities all over. Last year this event was number six,” Ms. Forebaugh said.
“I have never been to an event that is like this. This is more than just a shaving event, this is a community event, this is a party, a celebration and, honestly, it gives hope to so many.
“I am a cancer mum, it gives hope to so many families like ours, because of all these people, we are not doing it alone. We are doing it with you.”
Over the past three years, Hannah’s Heroes has raised more than $1.2 million in funds for St. Baldrick’s.
Of the approximately 45 hero funds that she works work with, Mrs. Forebaugh said, “this is the number one.”
Among the returning shavees this year were MLA Winston Connolly and 7-year-old Olly Thorpe, who was joined on stage by 9-year-old Nathan Suitor and 10-year-old Trevor Carmola.
Trevor donated 22 inches of his hair to U.K. charity The Little Princess Trust, which makes wigs for children undergoing cancer treatment.
Trevor, who grew his hair for two years prior to the Big Shave, said “I am doing this because other children need hair and I can grow mine again.”
Trevor’s plaits were auctioned off on stage, fetching $750.
At press time, this year’s Big Shave had raised $219,128, with several more fundraising events planned over the next ten days, including a student shave at Cayman Prep and High School on Friday, Sept. 30, and donations from Foster’s Food Fair IGA’s year of giving, which features the St. Baldrick’s Foundation as the chosen charity for September.
Top fundraising teams included “Maples and Balder” ($33,181), Harney, Westwood and Razors ($19,841), PwC ($12,698), Rotaract Club of Grand Cayman ($6,343), DART ($5,191) and an all-female shave team, “The Bald Angels,” who raised more than $7,346 and received news while on stage that Red Sail Sports will match their fundraising efforts. The Angels team included Cayman Prep teacher Claire Hughes, who told the crowd that as a teacher and a mother she could think of no better example of helping others.