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Shaving Heads Can Help Save Lives

St. Baldrick's Day is March 17

Childhood cancer is a tough foe to battle. But local residents wanting to join the fight can help raise money toward a cure by participating in the upcoming St. Baldrick's Day event in Centreville.

IT'LL BE HELD Saturday, March 17, from 5-8 p.m., at Fast Eddie's in the Newgate Shopping Center. And although the cause is serious, the event is hilarious. People volunteer to have their heads shaved, and others pay to see them do it.

"It's a lot of fun," said organizer Meg Crossett of Centreville's Pleasant Hill community. "Everyone has a great time cheering everyone on."

This year's event is the third annual. It raised $13,000, the first year and $38,000, last year. This time, Crossett hopes to raise $50,000. It's a twist on St. Patrick's Day and, ideally, shavees each bring in $1,000 by explaining the event to others and receiving pledges.

Crossett's daughter Rachel died of cancer in July 2001 at age 6. But earlier, Rachel had met Kathleen Ruddy, executive director of St. Baldrick's Day, when Rachel testified before Congress about the need for more cancer-research funding. Later, Ruddy asked Crossett if she'd hold a St. Baldrick's event in Centreville — and, each year, it's proved a rousing success.

"I do it in memory of Rachel," said Crossett, whose husband, children and nephew will all be shaved. "It's a wonderful organization and most of the money is raised by volunteers."

Proceeds go mainly to the Children's Oncology Group, in the form of grants. This group — the foremost, childhood-cancer research organization in the world — is comprised of 230 research facilities working together to find cures. It's a network of doctors, nurses and scientists who conduct clinical trials in childhood cancer and perform cutting-edge research.

This year, some 36 people — including Chantilly High Varsity Football Coach Mike Lalli — have already signed up to have their heads shaved in Centreville. "One of my friends did it last year, and he inspired a group of us from our high school — Bishop Ireton, Class of 1988 — to participate," he said.

Besides, added Lalli, "On my mom's side, both my grandparents died of cancer. So it's one of those things that we've had to deal with. [St. Baldrick's] is a great thing and it's a good cause."

MARTY STOLMACK, 43, of Sully Station II, is a homeland-security consultant to the federal government with SAIC, and he'll also be a new shavee. He's doing it in honor of his son Kyle, 12, a seventh-grader at Stone Middle School and a cancer survivor.

"He had a cancerous tumor in his left sinus area, and it was surgically removed Sept. 25," said Stolmack. "And after a year's worth of chemo and six weeks of radiation, he's now cancer-free. He's doing great now and is just having follow-up care."

But it's been a long road for Kyle, so his dad wants to pay tribute to his "courage and strength, and the hell he went through, the past year." On the St. Baldrick's Web site, he described Kyle as a hero.

"My hero cannot fly, stop speeding trains or save the world," wrote Stolmack. "Rather, my hero wakes up every morning to face a new day, knowing [it] will likely be filled with pain and nausea. My hero can understand that, even though his tumor is gone, his cancer is a life-long battle."

Also volunteering to be shorn for the cause is Travis Herrity, great-nephew of former Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Herrity. Travis, 14, is a Rocky Run eighth-grader, and his dad was in Chantilly High's first graduating class with Rachel's dad, Jim Crossett.

"I went to [St. Baldrick's Day] last year and I thought it was pretty cool," said Travis. "One girl raised a lot of money and had her hair all cut off. And I was just remembering Rachel and all the people who've died of cancer, and I just wanted to donate some money."

RACHEL'S OLDER SISTER, Sarah, 18, graduated from Westfield High last year and is now a psychology/pre-med. major at Virginia Tech. She's also one of the few females volunteering to be shaved bald. She would have done it last time but, with prom and graduation coming up, she decided to keep her locks. This time, it's different.

"It's something I've been wanting to do, in honor of Rachel and all of her friends — the ones who've lost their battles and the ones who are still fighting," explained Sarah. "I want to be a pediatric oncologist or a pediatric surgeon, and these guys are my inspiration."

With a bald head, she said, "I'm sure I'll get some funny looks and some questions. But then it'll help spread awareness. Five or six of my guy friends are also being shaved, and we're all going to go buy hats."

Another 2006 Westfield High grad, Sean Youngberg of Virginia Run, will also be a shavee. Sean, 19, is now a freshman at James Madison majoring in journalism and English. He and friend Josh Motafches deejayed last year's St. Baldrick's Day event, and Sean was also the emcee.

They'll do it all again this time but, in addition, said Sean, "I'm going bald. When Sarah Crossett said she'd do it, I thought, 'If a girl with beautiful hair like Sarah can do it, there's no reason I can't do it.'"

BESIDES THAT, he said, his 12-year-old cousin, Dalton Gulsby — son of former Sully District Police Station Commander Bob Gulsby — had Ewing's Sarcoma, a bone cancer, but is now cancer-free. "So I'm doing it for him, and for a friend of mine who had cancer last year," said Sean. "And I also know the Crossett family, and it's definitely an awesome cause."

He's also considering being shaved as something of a new adventure. Said Sean: "I've had long hair, a Mohawk and highlights, but I've never gone totally bald, so this is the final frontier for my hair."

Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully), is participating for his second time. He's shaving his head "to raise awareness of the childhood-cancer crisis. Cancer is the No. 1 disease killer of children. Every school day, 46 children — two classrooms full — are diagnosed with cancer."

He said his life's been touched by several children with cancer, including his friend, 5-year-old Brent Kiefer of Little Rocky Run. "Brent was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in February 2005," said Frey. "And although he's achieved remission, he still has six months of treatment to endure. Then he has to make it five years post-treatment without a relapse to be considered 'cured.'"

A generation ago, 80 percent of pediatric-cancer patients lost their battle. Today, 80 percent survive. CureSearch, a partnership of the Children's Oncology Group and the National Childhood Cancer Foundation — which is a beneficiary of the St. Baldrick's fundraising effort — believes that, with continued funding and advances in research, the survival rate can be raised to 85 percent by 2008.

Unfortunately, though, federal funding cuts may endanger the vital research. That's why St. Baldrick's needs so much help, and everyone in the community can do something. Those who can't, or don't desire to, shave their heads may still support someone who can by going to www.stbaldricks.org/events/event_info.html?EventID=149 and making a contribution.