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Going Bald for Cancer Research

Centreville man shaving head for St. Baldrick's Day fund-raiser

Steven Ratliff, 43, of Centreville's Country Club Manor community, has a perfectly fine head of blond hair. But next Friday, March 12, he's having it all shaved off for charity.

For his second year in a row, he's participating in the St. Baldrick's event at The Old Brogue, 760 Walker Road in Great Falls. It's from 7-9 p.m., and is a fund-raiser for children's cancer research.

Proceeds go to the National Childhood Cancer Foundation (NCCF), which is the fund-raising arm of CureSearch Children's Oncology Group consisting of 225 research facilities looking for a cure.

"It's a network of physicians, nurses and scientists who conduct clinical trials in childhood cancer and perform cutting-edge research at more than 200 member institutions worldwide," said Dr. Bill Goldsmith, the event organizer. "They represent every pediatric cancer program in North America and their funds are used in treating over 90 percent of the children with cancer in North America."

RATLIFF, a house painter and a husband and father of two, heard about St. Baldrick's from his sister-in-law. "She works for NCCF in Southern California," he said. "And it sounded like a fun way to raise funds for children with cancer." He knew two other people who were thinking of participating, this year, and they each said they'd do it if the others would.

"My brother-in-law went through treatment for lung cancer and is now in remission," said Ratliff. "Whether it's an adult or a child, it really hits you."

So far, nine people — including two women — have signed up to have their heads shaved. Last year, said Ratliff, "I didn't miss my hair, and it grows back rather quickly. It takes about two months to where it's good and full again."

His children, Thomas, now 4 1/2, and Kate, now 7 1/2, watched their daddy get his head shaved. "The kids kept running their fingers over my head," he said. "They couldn't keep their hands off of it. It's a good cause, and it shows them that everybody can make a little difference, here and there."

Ratliff said it's easy for him to do and is in sympathy for people who've lost their hair because of chemotherapy. "To give up a head of hair to help raise a few dollars is nothing compared to what the kids go through," he said. "Some people run marathons or want to help, but don't know what they can do, so it's a nice way to help out."

The nine participants hope to raise $25,000 and, so far, they've raised $12,268. Ratliff's goal is $750, and he's more than halfway there.

He's also participating in memory of Rachel Crossett, a fellow Centreville resident who died of cancer at age 6 in July 2001. So people donating in his name will also be donating in honor of Rachel. To contribute, go to www.stbaldricks.org, click on 2004 shavees, USA and Great Falls, Va., and click on Ratliff's photo.

CANCER TRAGICALLY touched Goldsmith's family, too, when he and his wife Kathleen lost their daughter Frances, 10, to a brain tumor in 1999. But he organizes St. Baldrick's not just because of what happened to her, but in hopes of preventing it from happening to others.

That's why, he said, it's so important to get the word out about childhood cancer and fund its research. Said Goldsmith: "Participants who've gotten their heads shaved get a lot of questions afterward — especially the women. People ask them, 'What's up?'"

The event started in 2000 in New York. "People decided to do it near St. Patrick's Day and call it St. Baldrick's," explained Goldsmith. "The funds were coming to NCCF so, in 2002, NCCF said [the event] could raise funds in its name. And this year, it's all under the umbrella of NCCF."

St. Baldrick's is held at 137 locations worldwide and, last year, raised more than $2 million. The 2002 amount was between $850,000 and $900,000. "In its first year, they wanted to raise $17,000 by [March] 17th," said Goldsmith. "They got way more than that — about $100,000."

According to NCCF, each year, more than 12,500 young people are diagnosed with cancer and about 2,300 of them die. Up to 75 percent of children with cancer can now be cured, but it's still the biggest disease-killer of children in the U.S., so there's a long way to go. For more information, see www.nccf.org.

Last year, people were elbow-to-elbow at The Old Brogue to see people's locks get shorn. "I was absolutely spellbound that it took off the way it did," said Goldsmith. And the more contributions, the more money for cancer research.