Talk to pretty much anyone in the local area, and he or she will probably know a friend, relative, co-worker or acquaintance whose life has been touched by cancer.
AND WHILE it's terrible at any age, it's especially tragic when it strikes a child. But local residents can help raise money toward a cure for childhood cancer by participating in next week's St. Baldrick's Day event in Centreville.
It'll be held Friday, March 17, at 6:30 p.m. at Fast Eddie's in the Newgate Shopping Center. It's a laugh-filled twist on St. Patrick's Day because participants promise to have their heads shaved and then collect money from people who want to see them do it.
And this year's "shavees" include Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully); Capt. Bill Gulsby, former commander of the Sully District Police Station; and Westfield High Principal Mike Campbell.
"I asked Mike Frey," said event organizer Meg Crossett, of Centreville's Pleasant Hill community. "And he said he'd do it if Capt. Gulsby would do it."
"It's such a good cause; how can you not?" said Frey. "And the last couple years, my life has been touched by it more than ever before. So it seemed like whatever I could do is worth it. People have to know there's hope; the money raised by so many groups across the country is doing tremendous things."
Crossett's daughter Rachel died of cancer in July 2001 at age 6. But before she did, she testified before Congress about the need for more funding for cancer research. Kathleen Ruddy, executive director of St. Baldrick's Day, met Rachel that day and later asked Crossett if she'd hold a St. Baldrick's event in Centreville.
Proceeds go to the CureSearch National Childhood Cancer Foundation — which supports 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.
But these aren't just numbers of some vague, unknown children. They're children with names and faces and families who love them — and many live here in Centreville, Chantilly and Clifton. One of them is Gulsby's son, Dalton, 11. And he's the main reason why Gulsby's participating in St. Baldrick's Day.
"My son is going through chemotherapy now for Ewing's Sarcoma," said Gulsby, now with the Fairfax County Police Department's Special Operations Division. It's a tumor that shows up in various part of the body — a childhood cancer primarily affecting boys between ages 11-20.
"HIS PROGNOSIS is good," said Gulsby. Then, laughing, he said, "The thing that put me over the top [about having my head shaved for St. Baldrick's Day] is to see Michael Frey get his hair cut off."
Also happily going bald for the cause is a large contingent of Crossett/Lawless family members, including Rachel's brothers, Andrew, 24; Robert, 22; and James, 14 1/2, and cousins A.V. and Patrick Lawless, 15 1/2 and 9, respectively.
Westfield's Campbell has many reasons for agreeing to have his head shaved. It's partly because of Rachel, since he's known the Crossetts for quite awhile. And it's in honor of his mother, who died of ovarian cancer, as well as Westfield Band Director Laura McBride, who succumbed to breast cancer in January.
It's also "for the kids at Westfield battling cancer" now, said Campbell, who said it's struck several students there. "If we can raise money for kids with cancer, it'll help." So he's more than ready to have his head shaved. However, he added jokingly, "I don't have a whole lot of hair, anyway, so I don't know if anyone will notice."
Young Rachel was first diagnosed with a neuroblastoma in 1998 and, sadly, the disease remains incurable today. "There's no new treatment," said Meg Crossett. "Nothing new on the horizon." So the best way to fight it and other childhood cancers, she said, is to raise money for research.
Those wishing to contribute may do so at the Web site, www.stbaldricks.org, by clicking on "location" and scrolling down to "U.S., Centreville, Va., Fast Eddie's." Shavees are supposed to raise $1,000 each by explaining the event to others and receiving pledges. Last year's event brought in about $15,000, and Crossett hopes this year's will raise $25,000.
Some 22 people have already signed up to have their heads shaved, including a father-daughter duo, Steve Ratliff, 45, of Centreville's Country Club Manor community, and daughter Kate, 9 1/2. It's the fourth year Steve's volunteered to have his thick head of blond hair shorn for charity, and the first time for Kate.
A fourth-grader at Cub Run Elementary, Kate's been involved with St. Baldrick's Day for three years. She's made posters and distributed fliers to help publicize the event, and she's created and sold bracelets to raise money toward the cause.
She's seen her dad have his head shaved. She's also had to cope with the loss of her uncle Dave — a 1982 Chantilly High grad — who died last summer at age 40, after a 2 1/2-year battle with lung cancer. She knows how devastating cancer can be and can't stand the thought of a child being that sick.
"I wanted to help raise money to find a cure," said Kate, who likes science and plays basketball, softball, the piano and violin. After last year's event, she told her parents she, too, wanted to be a shavee — even though her long, blonde curls reach to her waist.
She's also donating her hair to Locks of Love, which makes wigs for children who've lost their hair to chemotherapy. And she's looking forward to it.
"WE SAT down and had several, long talks to make sure she wasn't just doing it because Daddy was," said Steve Ratliff. "And she said she wanted to so she could 'help kids with cancer get well.' I also told her it'll take awhile for it to grow back, and she understood. So she's pretty gutsy. It's a really neat thing that she's doing."
He said it takes two or three months for his hair "to get to where I can comb it again." And this year, he's also shaving off his beard. Although it can't compete with Kate's sacrifice. But it's OK, she said: "I won't have to wash or brush all that hair, anymore."
And for those working up an appetite at the event, Fast Eddie's is offering a buffet of heavy hors d' oeuvres. Cost is $15, adults; $5, children, 2-10. Pleased to host St. Baldrick's Day for the second year in a row, Fast Eddie's General Manager Javier Quiroga said, "We want to get involved with the community and give back. And this event helps people out — it's for a very good cause."
Meg Crossett hopes lots of people from the community will come watch the festivities. "It's going to be a lot of fun," she said. "And when Mike Frey goes back to the Board of Supervisors and tells everybody why he shaved his head, it'll be in the county record. For me, what matters is more and more awareness that we've got a problem."