Bet To Go Bald Turns Into Annual Cancer Fundraiser for Kids

By Ligaya Scaff

It all started with a bet to go bald.  That’s what motivated Sam Kane, a retail manager at UPMC Presbyterian, to shave his head with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation nearly seven years ago. After running into a high school friend who lost his younger brother to a pediatric cancer, Kane was challenged to join him at the foundation’s annual event.

“I got my head shaved and fell in love with the cause and the people involved,” says Kane, who goes bald every March in solidarity with children fighting cancer. “You’re making a small sacrifice by changing your appearance—it’s something that I can easily do to generate funds.”

Sam Kane getting his head shaved.
Today, serving as lead volunteer event organizer for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, Kane helps run the local event alongside J. Anthony Graves, M.D.,Ph.D., a cancer researcher at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. The foundation seeks to support promising research, fill the funding gap, and give survivors long and healthy lives.

With childhood cancer research only making up 4 percent of the total amount funded for cancers in general, Dr. Graves emphasizes the need for support. “The situation absolutely demands more attention,” he says. “We are at the point where we have to find better treatments and that requires research.”

The signature occasion surrounding St. Baldrick's is the annual "head shaving" event, which will occur on March 15 at Claddagh Irish Pub in the Southside Works. "Shavees" encourage friends and family to make donations "on their head” and, in return, they publicly buzz off their locks.

Since 2007, more than 400 men and women have shaved their heads and raised $275,000 at the Pittsburgh event. Along with music, Irish dancing, and licensed barbers and cosmetologists on hand, Mayor Bill Peduto will make a special appearance and proclaim March 15 as “St. Baldrick’s Day.”

“Pittsburgh loves to take care of their own,” says Kane.  “We have made this a locals’ favorite event, with an extremely supportive following.”

The public act of shaving one’s hair has deep meaning for Kane. While in college, his best friend died of leukemia. Witnessing the friend’s dramatic physical changes over the course of several months, Kane recalled the devastation of seeing him gradually go bald. By cutting off his hair once a year, Kane continues to honor his friend’s memory.

In the United States, 1 in 5 children who are diagnosed with cancer will not survive, according to the organization’s website. Despite these harrowing statistics, Dr. Graves says he is empowered by the resilience of children who are fighting the disease and the philanthropic efforts of foundations like St. Baldrick’s.

“Kids are amazing,” says Dr. Graves. “They rise to the challenge and have so much spirit and hope. It’s an unbelievable pleasure to witness their energy and that gives you the motivation to do your job.”

For Kane, the cause has enabled him to observe transformative experiences. Women with “beautiful, long hair” are shaved bald, losing tresses that took decades to grow. He has seen a young man with his two children, all removing their hair in honor of a father who was dying of cancer and watching nearby. Holding hands with his five-year-old niece and shearing off their locks together, he remembers “not a dry eye in the place.”

J. Anthony Graves, M.D., Ph.D., and Sam Kane.
In the future, Kane would like to “increase the size and net proceeds from our local event and continue to strengthen the relationship I've forged between St. Baldrick’s and Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.” 

While each St. Baldrick’s Day brings unexpected moments, Kane’s family and friends know that no matter what, he’ll be sporting a shiny noggin in March. “I’m going to continue to do this every year,” he says. “Until I can’t do it anymore.”

Don’t want to have a shaved head in March?  You can still help support Kane and Dr. Graves by donating to their fundraising effortsTo form your own team or go bald solo,  register here.

Learn more about St.Baldrick’s Day by watching Kane and Dr.Graves on KDKA’s Pittsburgh Today

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