Big Shave hits $2 million goal to fight cancer

Karen Watson said when her 5-year-old son Noah came to the Big Shave fundraising event last year, it made an impression on him.

“He never stopped talking about it,” Ms. Watson said.

By Christmas, the young boy had decided to participate in the annual event put on by Hannah’s Heroes to benefit St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which funds childhood cancer research.

Between the first of the year and Friday night, when he and about 100 other participants sat on stage as buzzing razors removed the hair from their heads, Noah raised $2,311 for the foundation. His mother said he tapped schoolmates, fellow swim team members and family friends to raise the money.

While her family has not been touched by cancer, Ms. Watson said, they have two friends who are currently fighting the disease.

“He told me he’s going to fix them,” she said.

“I like to help people,” Noah said, smiling and rubbing his freshly shorn scalp.

In its sixth year, the fundraiser hit a milestone, passing the $2 million goal organizers had set for the total amount raised by Hannah’s Heroes to date.

Gaylene Meeson started Hannah’s Heroes in response to her own daughter’s battle with an aggressive type of brain cancer. Hannah, now 11, was 4 when she was diagnosed.

Ms. Meeson said doctors at the time said Hannah had only a 5 percent chance of living, partly because there weren’t specific drugs to treat the disease in children. Most cancer research is focused on adults.

“Kids deserve more,” Ms. Meeson told several hundred people gathered for the event Friday night in the parking lot next to the Brasserie. “We can give the next generation a better chance.”

Speaking earlier, as people funneled into the tented area, where seven chairs lined the stage waiting for volunteers to be shaved, she said she was surprised at the continued growth of interest in the event.

“Every year, I think it won’t have an appeal because (supporters) give and give,” she said, adding she fears they might get tired of it. “But it seems to become more exciting and people are even more passionate.

“I feel we’ve had a bigger reach this year,” she added. “We seem to have more of the community, particularly the younger members of the community. We’ve had more school shaves this year. The amount of donations we’ve had online is about $100,000 more than last year.”

Figures announced Sunday showed that this year’s event brought in $350,000, just enough to push the six-year total for the Big Shave over the $2 million mark.

Kelly Forbaugh, director of hero funds for St. Baldrick’s, said she continues to be impressed by the commitment of the Cayman community.

The Big Shave crowd cheers as Paperman’s Coffeehouse owner Paul Storey is relieved of his flowing locks. – Photos: Taneos Ramsay

“I think what’s unique is that a community of 60,000 people has raised $1.9 million,” she said at the start of the night, before final figures were known. “This year, fundraising has been through the roof.”

Ms. Forbaugh told the attendees about a young man she knew who had been diagnosed at 10 with leukemia. The boy qualified as a subject in a medical trial as part of research sponsored by St. Baldricks. He is now 18, in college and healthy, she said.

“All of you here helped make that happen for him,” she told the crowd. “This is magic.”

Colleen Shields, whose son Beau, 8, is a cancer survivor, said Hannah’s Heroes has become like family to her.

Beau was just 5 months old when he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma. He had tumors in his brain, spinal column and liver, Ms. Shields said. He relapsed after an initial round of chemotherapy and had to go through months of treatment a second time when he as a year old. Ms. Shields said she remains involved to support other children and their families and to share her story of hope.

“When Beau was going through treatment, there was no children’s medication,” she said. “It was watered-down adult medication.”

Ms. Meeson, who traveled with Hannah from Hong Kong, where the family now lives, to attend the event, said that’s why continued research targeting childhood cancer is so necessary. She said volunteers and supporters should be pleased Cayman has played a role in the effort by contributing more than $2 million.

“That’s a significant amount of research that wouldn’t have been done otherwise,” she said. “Every dollar we raise makes a difference, so we can never fail.”

Seven chairs and seven barbers made for some quick hair loss at Friday night’s Big Shave event, which benefited childhood cancer research.