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Residents Going Bald for Cancer Research

Several local residents, including family members of Centreville's Rachel Crossett — who died of cancer in July 2001 at age 6 — are having their heads shaved to raise money for children's cancer research.

THEY'RE PARTICIPATING in a St. Patrick's Day event in Centreville called St. Baldrick's Day. It'll be held Thursday, March 17, at 7:30 p.m. at LafterHours, the new comedy club in the basement of Fast Eddie's in the Newgate Shopping Center.

"Kathleen Ruddy, executive director of St. Baldrick's Day, met Rachel years ago when she testified before Congress about the need for more funding for cancer research," explained Rachel's mother, Meg Crossett, of the Pleasant Hill community. "That stuck with people, and Kathleen called me to see if we'd do a St. Baldrick's event in Centreville."

Proceeds go to the National Childhood Cancer Foundation (NCCF) — the fund-raising arm of CureSearch Children's Oncology Group consisting of more than 200 research facilities worldwide seeking a cure. It's a network of doctors, nurses and scientists who conduct clinical trials in childhood cancer and perform cutting-edge research.

They represent every pediatric cancer program in North America, and their funds are used in treating more than 90 percent of the children with cancer in North America. And since cancer is the No. 1 disease killer of children and 46 children are diagnosed with it every day, money toward research and an eventual cure is desperately needed.

Participants in next week's fund-raiser include Rachel's brothers, Andrew, 23; Robert, 21; and James, 13 1/2, and cousin A.V. Lawless, 14 1/2. Andrew hopes to raise $2,000, himself, and so far has collected $1,325 in donations. And on the St. Baldrick's Web site, www.stbaldricks.org, Andrew explained why he's taking part.

"This is especially for Rachel Crossett, who I live through every day," he wrote. "I miss you and am constantly in awe of the strength you showed me. This is also for all of Rachel's friends with whom we met and played with every day in the hospital. And for all of the children in the world battling cancer."

THOSE WISHING to contribute may do so at the Web site by clicking on "location, Centreville, LafterHours." Shavees are also still needed, and people may sign up for it at the Web site, as well. Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) will have the honor of shaving the first head.

Meg Crossett hopes the March 17 event will bring in at least $5,000. Rachel, the second-youngest child of Meg and Jim Crossett's six children, died of a neuroblastoma. And, said her mother, "They haven't come up with any new treatment for neuroblastoma since Rachel was first diagnosed in 1998. There's still no cure in sight — and that's a tragedy."

At least 12 people have already signed up to have their heads shaved in LafterHours, including Steve Ratliff, 44, of Centreville's Country Club Manor community. It'll be the third year this husband and father of two has volunteered to have his thick head of blond hair shorn for charity — and he's glad to do it.

"My sister-in-law works for NCCF and, except for losing a little bit of hair, it's a painless thing to do," he said. "And it's a neat way to raise some money [for such a worthy cause]." Besides, he added, "My hair grows back fairly quickly."

Ratliff also has another reason for participating. "My own brother-in-law is battling cancer," he explained. "And I consider myself to be lucky to be as healthy as I am, and able to help someone else."

So far, the dozen shavees have raised $3,700 total. Ratliff, who did so by e-mailing friends and family to solicit donations, has raised $300 and hopes to reach $2,500.

He's also helped the effort in other ways. Said Meg Crossett: "Steve was in charge of getting the shavees." And he and the other participants also helped by putting up posters and spreading the word about the upcoming event.

Crossett was also delighted with the response she received from Fast Eddie's and LafterHours. "I called Fast Eddie's and asked Erick if we could hold it there, and he was really thrilled," she said.

Erick Thornton, Fast Eddie's events and catering manager, said the business was looking for ways to promote the LafterHours comedy club, held Fridays and Saturdays at 8 and 10 p.m. in Fast Eddie's lower level. And, he added, "We were happy to do it to give back to the community."

"IT ALSO represents an opportunity for us, on a major holiday, to fill a room that [otherwise] wouldn't be filled 'til 11 or 12 at night," said Thornton. "We're excited about it, and it's an extraordinarily positive thing."

Meg Crossett hopes the community will turn out, next week, to watch the festivities: "Come if you can, because it will be fun to see people shaved bald."

She also noted that, after seeing a picture of her son James' blond hair on the St. Baldrick's Web site, "One lady in Appalachia said she'd make a $20 donation if I'd collect James' hair and send it to her for the Appalachian dolls she makes. I asked James, and he said it was OK."