“Be bold, be bald.” The choice to shave was posed to Victorians a while back, yet for many children diagnosed with cancer from young, losing their hair and becoming bald is not an option for them. The number of cases of childhood cancer the doctors saw in 2013 was 146, with leukaemia being the most prevalent. Apart from a host of side-effects that come with cancer and chemotherapy, hair loss is inadvertently one of the factors on children’s minds. Setting aside financial concerns and physical discomfort, providing emotional and psychological support to these young patients are primary in giving them the encouragement they need in their battle against cancer. Hair for Hope 2015 is back for its 13th consecutive year, organised by Children’s Cancer Foundation, with an aim to raise funds and awareness of childhood cancer. This annual event was held in VJC on the 13th of May, spearheaded by a group of energised students, namely Caitlin, Kylie, Shu Hwee and Santhiya, from 14A14. It was easy to donate and pledge support for these children, but for those who were braver , they made the admirable and momentous decision to shave bald, which was a tough one indeed. Only by stepping into the shoes of these patients, could students truly understand and empathise with the challenges young cancer patients face with their appearance every day. Hopefully, this event would turn our attention to our peers and shine a spotlight on their courageous act, revealing their inner strength and concretising the idea that beauty really is only skin deep.
What makes these volunteers so courageous is perhaps because their intrinsic purpose in shaving is so strong that is was enough for them to relinquish material effects and stand up for this common cause. For Marcus Yoong from 15S64, this deed has been done, for the past four years. The deep sentiment behind the event was further emphasized as we approached the ceremonial shavees to ask them about their reasons for shaving. For Penelope from 15S61, it was about doing her part to “support a good cause”, as with many others. It was observed that more J1 girls like her had taken up this initiative with much gumption, despite the inevitable stares they might receive from passing strangers. While most of the shavees simply commented that their appearance didn’t matter anyway, the undercurrent of courage resonates deeply because there would ultimately still be some hesitation when making the choice to do away with their hair. Managing to remain strong in the face of this often disconcerting, unsought thought fulfills the intention of challenging the social stigma many cancer patients face.
The hype of this event was certainly not downplayed, as 41 pledge card holders roamed the school for donations before the event. A number of students, around 40 of them, shaved to support children with cancer.
Although some may perceive this act of shaving to be more of a publicity stunt than an altruistic act, many shavees indeed registered with the best of intentions, with a multitude of reasons ranging from advocacy, raising funds or more poignantly, personal experience. As with all good acts, shaving should not be done to look good, or cool, or to be in the spotlight of selfies taken with friends clamouring to touch the starkly shaven head. What was perturbing was the limelight placed on the perceived courage of the shavees, inadvertently undermining the gravity of the issue, begging the question of whether it was worth it to shave. In fact, one student commented that Hair for Hope was a “one-time off” event, suggesting that it didn’t have the long-term effects of raising awareness and garnering support for these children it aimed to have.
Nevertheless, the shavees’ responses proved that the gravity of the situation was not lost on them. Wei Ching from 15S30 shared with us her personal thoughts on how “we should show our support” to these cancer patients, taking away the message that the event was to show the children they were not alone. For some students, they realised that they were capturing the attention of the other students in school. Seow Wei Liang of 14A11 said that “when [he] went into the canteen, many students noticed [his] new haircut and were staring at [him].” He also brought up an example of a student who had requested to touch his head. This definitely goes to show that the event does indeed make a huge statement, and thus goes a long way in raising the awareness of childhood cancer among many of us. Moreover, shaving one’s head is such an important decision that doing it once would already have a lasting impact on the students involved.
It was also very touching to find out that friends and family of the shavees had openly displayed firm support for their brave decisions. Classmates and friends of these brave students were seen crowding near them, helping them take videos and photos of the process and also shouting out words of encouragement to them. A J2 from ODAC who decided to shave his head was accompanied by many of his fellow CCA members who actively supported him when he was shaving. They also told him that they were proud of him after the shaving was over. He said that it was them who further boosted his resolve to shave and support the good cause. He was also very touched when his parents, who had “initially objected but eventually allowed [him] to do so.” This shows that encouragement from friends and family were key in motivating many of our shavees to take part in this meaningful event, and was therefore highly important in ensuring the eventual success of the event.
While the shavees were courageously having their heads shaved, egged on by their supportive friends, there were other students who were playing their part in supporting the cause too. The emcees of the event, Kia An and Sean, were enthusiastically promoting the event to onlooking students and encouraging those interested to participate. They also helped to organise the crowd at many points of time, ensuring that the event progressed smoothly and was a huge success. Kia An went around attracting the crowd excitedly, drawing much amusement among the crowd of students when he continually repeated his tagline which went along the lines of “Come quickly! There’s haircuts for free!” in Chinese. This demonstrated that students are highly participative in the event and have happily taken up many roles to help out. This does indeed show that all it just takes is just initiative, and you might not actually have to shave your head just to support the cause that you are aligned with. It is certainly hopeful that more students would take the initiative to help out next year, in one way or another, for this is a meaningful cause that supports cancer patients close to our age.
Long after I left the concourse, I pondered about the value of shaving in this event. For those who had wanted to raise awareness of childhood cancer, or had jumped on the bandwagon on impulse, or had perhaps sought to lend their support to children with cancer, their efforts have indeed gone a long way, serving as a poignant reminder to children with cancer that they are not alone in this battle. No doubt, courage is certainly indispensable for many of the shavees present. ‘Brave’ was a word that was hung loosely on everyone’s lips that day – for the shavees who sacrificed their hair willingly. While we congratulate our 40-odd shavees for their valiant acts, we must also remember: It was not simply a stunt, it was an act of shaving – an inspiring gesture of support for children who, despite losing their hair, can hold their heads up higher and fight a good fight against cancer. These children, who face the daunting illness and stigma on a daily basis, may have been lost among the calls of support for the shavees who took part in the event. One has to clearly understand that these cancer patients are the ones who are truly the most brave.
All images are taken courtesy of Photosoc.
Fiona Lee 15A11
Angela Ang 14A11
Cara Ow 14A12