EDITORIAL – Hannah’s Heroes: Hair today, gone tomorrow

Hannah’s Heroes founder Gaylene Meeson, center, embraces Woody Foster after both gave up their hair for the Big Shave fundraiser. The organization is named for cancer survivor Hannah Meeson, left.

If you see a newly baldheaded coworker, neighbor, friend or stranger today, please stop to tell them “thanks.”

Long before the main event kicked off on Friday, the 100-plus participants in Hannah’s Heroes 6th Annual Big Shave had blown right past this year’s fundraising goal of $250,000 – money which will help fund life-changing treatments and cures for childhood cancer.

The lighthearted annual event owes much of its success to big-hearted participants, teams (including the cleverly named “Maples and Balder” and “Ogier Fund-Razors”) and supporters whose efforts help advance a gravely serious cause.

According to St. Baldrick’s Foundation, the child cancer research charity that is the beneficiary of the Big Shave donations, a child is diagnosed with cancer somewhere in the world every two minutes – an astonishing and heartbreaking figure. According to Hannah’s Heroes, over the past year at least four more children in Cayman have been diagnosed with cancer. One of those children has died.

Although advances in research and treatment have increased the chance of survival for children diagnosed with the most common type of childhood cancer (Acute lymphoblastic leukemia) from virtually zero in the 1950s to approximately 90 percent, there are more than a dozen types, and countless subtypes, of childhood cancers – demanding a multiplicity of treatment options, according to St. Baldrick’s. It is their mission to fund continued research that ultimately will yield dramatically improved outcomes for children diagnosed with every type.

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Their goal is as lofty as it is worthy. According to St. Baldrick’s, only four chemotherapy drugs have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration specifically for childhood cancer since 1980. Nearly all the chemotherapy drugs used in children’s cancer therapies were developed more than 40 years ago. The research and approval process is long, difficult and costly.

Hannah’s Heroes, in honor and support of cancer-survivor Hannah Meeson, 11, and parents, Gaylene and Nigel Meeson, have raised nearly US$2 million over the past six years to support ongoing research. Their efforts have funded research grants named in Hannah’s honor at prestigious research institutes including John Hopkins in Baltimore, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and Duke University in North Carolina, enabling researchers to continue their vital exploration for effective treatments and cures.

In the process, they have helped increase awareness and empathy for the difficult journey children and their families must embark upon with a cancer diagnosis. Through the simple act of joining together in a bit of friendly competition, individuals, families, workplaces and schools have knitted together a community of support.

There still is much work to do. The fight to conquer childhood cancer will be a long one. So thanks again to Big Shave organizers, to the “heroes” who went under the clippers and to their countless supporters. Congratulations on another successful event.

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