‘It still feels like hair’

Lawrence Intermediate School students participate in St. Baldrick's head-shaving event

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“I am a childhood cancer survivor.”

Those were the first words spoken by special guest Jackson Schwartz at the Lawrence Intermediate School (LIS) fundraiser for childhood cancer research March 18.

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Jackson shared his story with LIS students, who were waiting for several classmates to have their heads shaved to raise money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.

The head-shaving event is the signature fundraiser for the non-profit group. Volunteers – known as “shavees” in St. Baldrick’s speak – seek pledges from supporters in exchange for shaving their heads for the fundraiser, which is timed to occur around St. Patrick’s Day.

The event at LIS was one of many that took place in Lawrence Township and around the United States to support the St. Baldrick’s Foundation during March.

Jackson, who is a senior at Neshaminy High School in Pennsylvania, was on vacation with his parents when he began having stomach pains. He was sleeping more than usual. They were concerned and took him to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

“That’s where we learned his diagnosis was acute lymphoblastic leukemia,” said his mother, Kristen Schwartz. She is an academic support instructor at LIS.

Jackson was five years old.

The doctors at CHOP tried medical procedures and drugs to treat the leukemia. Jackson said he received a “giant” shot in his leg once a week for several weeks. He lost his hair twice.

Jackson said the survival rate for acute lymphoblastic leukemia is 90%. Many children are diagnosed with cancer and they do not survive, he said.

“I am grateful to be here,” Jackson told the LIS students. He has been cancer-free for 12 years.

At that point, the LIS students who volunteered to have their heads shaved were introduced. Their classmates cheered.

The “shavees” went up onto the stage in groups of three. Their classmates counted down – “3, 2, 1” – before volunteer barbers and beauticians began snipping away at their hair.

Some of the shavees were happy and smiling, while others wore solemn expressions on their face. One boy pumped his hands in the air after losing his locks.

Ava DeLeo, who was the only girl “shavee” on the LIS team, said she liked it. The 12-year-old raised her hand to her head and brushed it across the stubble.

“It still feels like hair. (My head) is just colder,” Ava said.

Ava and her classmates on the LIS Super Shavers team raised $7,833 to donate to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. LIS was one of five schools in the Lawrence Township Public Schools that participated in the fundraiser.

The Ben Franklin elementary school shavees’ team raised $12,643. The Lawrence High School Cardinals team raised $10,993.

Lester’s Lifesavers team, which was made up of Lawrenceville Elementary School shavees, raised $9,331. The Lawrence Middle School team, known as LMS Nation, raised $7,147.

When all of the pledges and donations were tallied – including the annual Lawrenceville head-shaving event earlier this month at Amalfi’s restaurant – the shavees had raised $163,370. The goal was $75,000.

According to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a child is diagnosed with cancer every two minutes worldwide. In the United States, it kills one of every five children diagnosed with cancer.

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 include Ewing’s sarcoma, which is a bone tumor; retinoblastoma, which is a cancer of the retina of the eye; and Wilm’s tumor, which is a kidney cancer.

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.

The man asked his friends what they would do to give back to the community. They 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.

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