At 15, Katherine Henshaw is at the stage of a teenager’s life where appearance is of paramount importance. She is tall, thin, and leggy, with her features arranged in a model’s proportions.
For a year, Katherine has been growing her long blond hair. Last Friday night, she sat smiling as she was shaved bald in public.
In so doing, she raised $6,700 in pledges to be donated to the National Childhood Cancer Foundation (NCCF), in honor of Frances Goldsmith.
Frances, 10, was the only daughter of Bill and Kathy Goldsmith of Great Falls, Katherine’s godparents.
Her father, Rick Henshaw, co-owns Great Falls Animal Hospital with Bill Goldsmith.
As part of the St. Baldrick’s fundraiser, Katherine and 11 other volunteers sat in an Irish pub in Great Falls with their friends around to watch as they were shorn of their hair.
Katherine’s will go to make a blond pony tail for a child suffering from cancer.
Overall, in only its second year, the Great Falls event raised about $17,000, said Kathy Goldsmith. Nationally, heads were shaved in 116 other locations just, also on Mar. 14, three days before St. Patrick’s Day. They raised more than $509,000 nationally.
Henshaw decided a year ago to grow her hair long and donate it to “locks of love,” to be woven into a wig for a cancer victim. She also wanted to do it publicly.
Her mother, Donna Henshaw, had participated last year as a “shavee,” raising $3,100. The Henshaws and Goldsmiths are friends, and Bill and Kathy Goldsmith are Katherine Henshaw’s godparents.
Katherine tripled her mother’s goal, then bested it by another $400.
As her head was shaved at the Brogue last Friday, Katherine said, “I was kind of expecting to get nervous or something.
“But my sister’s friend kept yelling out my name, and everyone would cheer. It was so fun. It was kind of weird how everyone was looking at me. But I really didn’t think about it,” she said.
“Afterwards, I was like, excited and like, happy. I had no feelings of regret. It was not as big of a deal as most people think.
“ I mean, my hair’s going to grow back,” she said. “I have raised [more than] $6,000,” Katherine said. “I would rather have a bald head and raise all that money.”
“Around school, I am just going to walk around bald,” Katherine said. “It is in support of kids who have chemo and radiation.
“There were a lot of ‘hi’s’ in the hall, and a couple of stares. But most people were cool with it,” she said.
Being bald, she said, helped her, and her classmates at Madison High School, where she is a sophomore, understand what it is like for children who lose their hair as they are being treated for cancer.
Katherine, a sophomore at Madison, is a member of the varsity volleyball team and a member of the Octagon Club, sponsored by the Vienna Optimists.
FRANCES GOLDSMITH, born on Dec. 3, 1988, died at the age of 10 on Feb. 28, 1999, nine months after being diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. She would have turned 14 this past December.
“It is almost impossible to conceive what it is like to have to tell your nine-year-old daughter that the medicine she is going to have to take is so strong that it will cause her hair to fall out,” said her mother, Kathleen.
“You don’t really notice people are looking at you,” said newly-bald Katherine Henshaw, “until [maybe] a kid at the grocery store stares or something.
“Then you realize that for people who are already going through an awful disease, anything extra, like someone staring at you, would just make it so much harder.
“It makes me understand what it’s like for people who have gone through [chemo],” Henshaw said.
St. Baldrick’s Day, celebrated on March 14, is only two weeks after the anniversary of Frances Goldsmith’s death.
“We are also dealing with the anniversary of that hideous event,” said her mother. “That never goes away.”
“For us,” she said, St. Baldrick’s Day “is a good thing, and I do enjoy it. But it is a party that I wish I never had to go to,” she said.
She learned about the NCCF last year, after one of Frances’ drawings was chosen as the cover for the NCCF’s holiday catalog of items to be sold as fund-raisers.
“I started investigating on the internet,” said Goldsmith. I was looking for organizations that would support research into childhood cancer; that would concentrate on doing away with it and get rid of this hideous, horrible disease that no child should ever have, not just make people more comfortable.”
“More than 90 percent of the funds actually go to research,” Goldsmith said. “The money is pooled and shared among all the children’s cancer research centers, so a child in one part of the country will have access to any of the data.
“They are really trying to save these kids, not to make a name for themselves,” she said. “They deal with kids every day who are suffering and dying from cancer.
“Every day, there is another family, that is saying ‘Gee, I don’t know. These headaches just don’t seem normal.’”
“You go from a normal, typical existence, to suddenly, like a freight train. You have so little control over what is happening,” she said.
“Brain tumors are the second most common cancer in children, after leukemia,” said Kathy Goldsmith.
“They are particularly deadly. If you have [a brain tumor], and it cannot be surgically removed, there is very little chance of overcoming it.
“The answers are going to come from research,” Goldsmith said.
“It all takes time and money. The great thing about NCCF is that the money they raise supports the Children’s Oncology Group; it includes virtually every children’s cancer center in the country.”
The National Hospital for Children in Washington is among them, she said.
About a year and a half after Frances died, the Goldsmiths adopted a little girl from Russia; Katerina, now three.
But the pain of losing Frances will always be with them, Goldsmith said, making the St. Baldrick’s Day event a mix of happiness and grief.
“At one point when I just stepped aside into the hallway,” said Goldsmith. “I thought how sad it was that it even had to be, but how wonderful it is, at the same time. You get buoyed up and you feel sad, and it is all mixed together.”
As for the shavees, some of whom the Goldsmiths had never met, none looked weird with bald heads, she said.
“You assume it will be this awful thing, but it isn’t.
“There is something that shines through in their eyes when they finish that is more than just getting a haircut,” Goldsmith said.
“They have done this for a purpose; a cause, to show solidarity with the kids who are losing their hair.
“They all have this kind of glow to them, so they all look great. regardless of the shape of their head,” said Kathy Goldsmith.
“It seems like there is a pent-up need in people to want to do something about childhood cancer.
Cancer cuts across all races, ethnicity’s, and genders, she said. “If you are a human being, you are susceptible.”