Kristy Charest literally saw a sign. That’s why she’ll be walking around with a Sinead O’Connor cue-ball cut this afternoon.
Walter Pires says he first did it for his Dad, a tough Portuguese immigrant who worked hard all his life before dying from leukemia several years ago.
Me? I have my own reasons, which will be illuminated later in this column. But first an explanation as to why Kristy, Walter and hundreds of others will be getting their hairy heads buzzed down the skin.
The communal cut is a charity event sponsored by the Framingham-based One Mission, which raises money to comfort children who are coping with cancer. While other charities pay for research, One Mission’s annual Buzz Off for Kids with Cancer raises money for programs that comfort children and their parents in personal ways.
Sometimes it’s a birthday celebration in a young patient’s hospital room. Or it’s a pizza party. Or movies. Or just paying for the unseen fees that families endure -- like expensive hospital parking for the moms and dads who will do anything to be at their children’s bedside during testing, chemotherapy and other hardships that come with a cancer diagnosis.
“One Mission does whatever it takes to get kids and families through cancer treatment,” says founder Ashley Haseotes.
The charity works with Boston Children’s Hospital, the Jimmy Fund Clinic at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and The Tomorrow Fund Clinic at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence. Since it began in 2009, One Mission has raised more than .5 million and provided support to more than 8,000 families dealing with pediatric cancer.
“Our goal is to make life in the hospital less lonely and stressful, provide some joy during a time of fear and uncertainty, and give patients and their families the support they need to get through the emotional and unexpected financial challenges of treatment,” Haseotes says.
Now back to Kristy, a critical-care nurse at Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River, who lives in Dartmouth with her husband and two young sons.
“I always had a desire to shave my head,” she confessed in a telephone interview on Friday afternoon.
Then, one day last year, she saw a sign for the Buzz Off while driving on Route 6 in Westport. “I sprang it on my husband, but he wasn’t too crazy about it,” she said.
So Kristy didn’t get the Buzz last year. But this year she was more persistent, revisiting the question and noting that she and her husband had so much to be thankful for with “two beautiful, healthy children.”
She said she wanted to do something to help the families who have to endure “this horrible thing.” And her husband agreed, telling her to go for it.
So Kristy's shoulder-length hair -- which she describes as “chemically enhanced blond” in color -- will be buzzed to the scalp. And friends, co-workers and social media acquaintances will donate a few dollars here and there to raise funds for the cause.
It’s really great when cancer funding goes to research, she said. But “these families are going through horrible times, and to and to see them get support from this … it’s amazing.”
Walter Pires, a state records clerk from New Bedford, says his inspiration comes from his Dad, who died shortly after he was diagnosed with leukemia in 2014.
He was old-school Portuguese, Walter said. “And when he was going for chemo, he saw people losing their hair. But he never lost his hair. So he kept asking me: ‘How come I’m not losing my hair?’”
Walter didn’t know, but after his father had died, he remembered the hair question. And when he learned about the Buzz-Off, he liked the notion of solidarity with young cancer patients -- choosing to lose his hair to help others who don’t have the choice about losing theirs.
“Me and my son have been doing this for three years now.” His son is Alex, a 13-year-old seventh-grader at the Global Learning Charter Public School in New Bedford.
“My dad came to this country in the ‘60s,” Walter said. He worked at Titleist, and he was willing to go through anything and everything to beat his cancer.
“If he were alive today, he would shave his head with me.”
My own experience was more an accident of fate. I saw a Facebook post about New Bedford Police detective Claudia Sampson, a two-time cancer survivor who became a regular Buzz-Off participant.
I decided to do it, too. And I would write a column about my own Dad, who died of cancer, roughly half-a century after surviving Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal and other World War II battles.
Then, a day or two after the buzz, my wife noticed a strange mole on of my scalp -- a mole that would otherwise have been concealed by my thick mat of hair.
I had the growth checked out and learned that it was early-stage melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. I had the cancer removed, and I’m healthy today -- thanks to the instant karma I received after participating in my first Buzz Off.
So I vowed to make the event a regular part of my summer. And today, I'm going back as a cancer survivor.