When Keith Kemo took his daughter to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, he couldn’t help but notice that some parents who also parked in the parking lot at the hospital would open their car’s trunk and remove a wheelchair from it.
The parents would help their child into the wheelchair, Kemo said.
He also noticed that the child was bald, which was a clear sign that the child was receiving chemotherapy for cancer.
“It dawned on me how lucky we were. We were just dealing with my daughter’s bad back problem,” Kemo said, looking back at the experience.
Aiming to help cancer-stricken children, Kemo will shave his head to raise money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation for the 15th consecutive year in a virtual event slated for March 12. The nonprofit group raises money for childhood cancer research.
The Lawrence Township resident was introduced to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation by his friend, Michael McCue. Participants – or “shavees,” in St. Baldrick-speak – raise money from friends and supporters by agreeing to shave their heads.
The head-shaving event, which is the St. Baldrick’s Foundation’s signature fundraising event, is open to men, women and children.
The nationwide event is timed to be held around St. Patrick’s Day.
McCue began taking part in the St. Baldrick’s Foundation fundraiser when it was held at a bar and restaurant in Princeton. He was joined by Kemo, Dan Collins, Mario Mangone and Cliff Perry, all Lawrence residents who are still participating in the event.
“We thought it was neat. Mike said, ‘Why not bring it to Lawrence?’ Gradually, we told other people and it snowballed. Here we are, 15 years later,” Kemo said.
For several years, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation head-shaving event was held live at a local restaurant – complete with barbers and hairdressers who donated their time and their barber chairs. But since the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been held virtually.
The Lawrence Township event aims to raise $85,000 – of which nearly $65,000 has already been raised. The event routinely raises more than the targeted amount. In 2021, the shavees raised $113,800 and in 2020, they raised $146,235.
Participants can raise money as individuals or as teams. Five of the 11 teams signed up for this year’s fundraiser are representing schools in the Lawrence Township Public Schools. The five teams have raised more than $18,000.
The money that the teams and individual shavees raise is turned over to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.
A child is diagnosed with cancer every two minutes, according to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. In the United States, cancer kills 1 in every five 5 who have been diagnosed with the disease.
The most common childhood cancer is acute lymphoblastic leukemia, according to the foundation. Myeloid leukemia is not as common, but it is more difficult to treat.
Other childhood cancers are Ewing sarcoma, which is a bone tumor; retinoblastoma, which is a cancer of the retina of the eye; and Wilms tumor, which is a kidney cancer.
The genesis for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation and its head-shaving fundraiser grew out of a challenge issued by one successful businessman to his equally successful friends in 1999. He asked them what they would do to give back to the community. They all agreed to shave their heads to raise money for children with cancer. The first head-shaving fundraiser was held around St. Patrick’s Day in 2000, giving rise to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.