COLUMBIA — Melanie Dollens was all smiles as volunteers shaved her head in front of an excited crowd Saturday evening. It was her first time losing all her locks, but she wasn’t scared.
“Morghan’s annual MRIs scare me more,” she said of her 11-year-old daughter, who has been cancer-free for four years. Dollens shaved her head as part of a fundraising event for childhood cancer research.
MU Children's Hospital and the St. Baldrick's Foundation — a national nonprofit that holds fundraisers for childhood cancer research — held a head-shaving event at the Knights of Columbus Hall. The foundation organizes head-shaving events all over the world where volunteers shave their heads in return for donations and sponsorships.
This was the first event benefiting the St. Baldrick’s Foundation in Columbia. The event raised close to $30,000, and event planners hope to raise $50,000 next year. Dollens raised the most money of any individual, donating almost $2,300 to the cause.
Originally, Columbia event planners hoped to have five to 10 volunteers willing to publicly part with their hair. About 50 people signed up to be shaved on Saturday.
Some of the participants had personal connections to the disease and shared stories of how it had affected their lives. Others did it simply to show support. Robert Churchill, dean of MU's medical school, was one of the participants.
“I like coming to these events,” Churchill said. “They give me a chance to let my hair down.”
Claire Forshee, 8, and Ian Montilla, 7, also attended. Both are receiving treatment at MU Children's Hospital for leukemia.
Forshee was diagnosed when she was 7 and is in her fifth phase of cancer treatment. She loves singing and dancing and looks forward to taking her favorite jazz classes again when she feels well enough.
Montilla was diagnosed when he was 6. He went into remission in March 2010 and is receiving maintenance treatment. He is excited about his improving health and hopes to be "a wrestler or a ninja" when he grows up.
Every year, 16,000 children are diagnosed with cancer, according to a news release from the foundation. It is the leading cause of death by disease among children in the U.S.
About 3 percent of all federal cancer research funding is dedicated specifically to pediatric cancer research.
The St. Baldrick's Foundation, which began as a challenge between friends in 2000, is the world's largest volunteer-driven fundraiser benefiting childhood cancer research.
The organization recently awarded a grant of $25,848 to MU Children’s Hospital, the news release stated. The grant will provide resources to make more research possible and treat more kids through clinical trials.