St. Baldrick's: Shaving Heads to Help Kids with Cancer
By Laura Braden Quigley
Right or wrong, our appearance can be closely linked to our identity. So how many of us would be willing to shave our heads to raise awareness and funds for children’s cancer?
Meet Romel Antoine and Kiana Valentine. These two champions have joined the de Vere’s annual St. Baldrick’s team. These guys are putting their money where their mouth is to raise money and stand in solidarity with kids fighting cancer.
The St. Baldrick’s Foundation is a national, volunteer-driven charity committed to funding the most promising research to find cures for childhood cancers and give survivors long, healthy lives. Over 175,000 children are diagnosed with cancer each year – that’s one every three minutes. According to their website, “In the U.S., more children die of childhood cancer than any other disease — more than AIDS, asthma, cystic fibrosis, congenital anomalies and diabetes combined. And yet, all types of childhood cancers combined receive only 4% of the U.S. federal funding for cancer research.” St. Baldrick’s – and all their participants – aim to change that.
I met Romel during his #SMEBB nomination in 2015, and he has since married a GOTG writer so…#SMEBBworks. 🙂 His bright smile and personality are infectious, and his locks can only be described as luscious. I met Kiana at some long-forgotten work reception. She’s incredibly bright, clever and can talk to anyone about anything. She shaved her head for the first time in 2014 and is (thankfully) back at it again this year. Based on her career, her participation is a banner cry for other professional women to join her.
To be honest, I’m not sure I have the guts to do this… so I’m one of their biggest fans for taking the plunge. Here are their reasons, in their own words:
How did you first hear about St. Baldrick’s? Who convinced you to join?
ROMEL: I heard about St. Baldrick’s when I first moved to Sacramento a few years ago. I donated to the cause but never thought I would participate as a shavee because my hair was always short. I think the decision to join was a drip, drip, splash. I’ve seen so many friends lose people close to them. I felt like I’d seen so much loss that I’d become almost numb to it, but I always wanted to help and never knew how. The splash was when Laura Quigley sent me a note asking if I’d consider it. The answer was immediately, “yes.”
KIANA: My husband Justin is a bartender at de Vere’s Irish Pub so I first learned of the organization and their unique fundraising events from him. I was at the 2013 de Vere’s Brave the Shave event and another female bartender at the Pub shaved her head. I was like, “what, women actually do this… that is badass!” And that was it. I said next year, I’m going to raise a ton of money and shave my head too! In 2014 I raised over $13,000 and Braved the Shave for the first time.
Why did you decide to participate?
ROMEL: My life has been about service to others and doing something to serve causes bigger than me. With that said, I was the best slacktivist – I’d send money, post a Facebook status and volunteer, but I never really had skin (or hair) in the game. Participating as a shavee allows me to step outside my ego – letting go of my appearance – to raise funds and awareness for such an important issue. And my personal connection comes through the children I’ve worked with. During my years as a classroom educator, I’ve had many students who kicked cancer’s butt, and their drive and persistence brought me to tears. I also remember their peers who’d banded around them to make sure that they were always supported. It’s a great reminder that we’re all connected and should support each other accordingly.
KIANA: My brother-in-law Chris had cancer as a child. He and my husband have been passionate about children’s cancer issues for pretty much their whole lives. Chris is currently in residency working towards becoming a pediatric oncologist at the very hospital that treated him. Shortly after we met, I joined Justin for a volunteer weekend at Camp Okizu. Among other programs, Camp Okizu provides medically supervised residential camping programs for children with cancer, their siblings, and families. That first weekend at Okizu was life changing. It was incredibly sad at times to watch children and families dealing with cancer but also incredibly moving and inspirational to watch children of all ages face their diagnoses with bravery, laughter, and sheer determination. From that weekend on, I knew this would be the philanthropic cause I would spend my life working on.
How did people respond to your shaved head?
KIANA: I distinctly recall walking across the street from my parking garage to my office the morning after the shave, and I just felt like people were looking at me. You know that type of passing glance that turns into a second look? That was the first response I remember feeling. The second was getting a huge hug from a former colleague who had survived two battles with breast cancer. Over the next couple of months, I had a range of responses from the unsettled to the thankful. Perhaps my most special experience was meeting Robyn Raphael one afternoon while I was having brunch at Zocalo. She approached me about why I was bald, and when I told her I shaved for St. Baldrick’s, she shared her story with me. She lost her son to cancer when he was very young, and she was filled with so much gratitude that people participate in St. Baldrick’s events to help fund research to will save future children from cancer.
How do you think people will respond to the drastic style change?
ROMEL: I don’t think my kids have ever known me with short hair so they may freak out a little bit. A lot of people have already asked how they could save my hair from the shave – I tell them that they could match the amount I’ve raised on the day of the shave. Game on!
Most interesting thing you’ve learned from the experience?
KIANA: I think I grew in so many ways after shaving my head. The experience reinforced my commitment to community service and philanthropic endeavors. It made me more aware of just how many children are diagnosed with cancer around the world – one every three minutes of every day. In the end, the most interesting thing I learned though is somewhat self-centered. I woke up the next morning (when the high of the night before had worn off a bit), and I stood in front of the mirror in the bathroom with the light off. I was nervous to take another good look at myself without any hair. So I flipped the switch, and I almost cried because I don’t think I have ever felt more beautiful in my life than in that moment (well, my recent wedding day aside!). I felt like for the first time I saw me, without hair or make up or any of the other distractions we as women do to ourselves in the name, and rightfully so, beauty, fashion, fun… whatever the reason. Throughout my life I have struggled with body image issues – wanting to feel beautiful, wanting to have true self confidence in the person that I was, inside and out. In that moment, I felt truly beautiful inside and out.
Tips for other women participating? Favorite product or hat?
KIANA: Remember why you are doing it. As the day gets closer, it’s totally expected to feel increasingly nervous. The only thing that got me through was to remember my “why”. For me it was my nephews, niece and all the little ones in my life. Post event, really big earrings! I never wants to cover up my head with a hat or scarf but I loved big earrings.
SHOW YOUR SUPPORT by joining Romel and Kiana TONIGHT at de Vere’s (1521 L Street) from 5-8:30pm. Cheer them on (and dozens of other Sacramentans), as we help raise money for an amazing cause.