The 25-year-old cancer fund for Golisano Children’s Hospital makes sure that everyone receives treatment
Throughout September, more than 30 community leaders from Collier and Lee County “braved the shave,” allowing 25 local childhood cancer survivors to shave their heads to raise awareness and support for Barbara’s Friends – the cancer fund for Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida. To date, $177,408 has been raised and donations continue to come in.
This year’s event was forced to change because of the pandemic and went virtual every Friday, via the Golisano’s Facebook page what resulted surprised event the organizers. “As we re-envisioned Clips we had no idea the powerful movement and all the momentum we were creating,” said Amy Frith, Director of Barbara’s Friends. “Each Friday’s shave was featured on the local news and more than 75,000 people viewed the shaves throughout the month on Facebook. What we all witnessed and shared this month was life changing for all those involved. The best part – the smiles on the kids’ faces. They loved the attention and chance to be involved and share their victory stories.”
“She has been talking nonstop about it and loves looking at all the pictures, showing family and friends,” said the mother of a 9-year-old cancer survivor who helped shave. “We are so grateful to have had the opportunity for her to participate. She truly has been all smiles since. She said it made her heart happy.”
In addition to raising money for the 25th year of Barbara’s Friends, Clips for Cancer raises awareness about the challenges of childhood cancer, including going bald, a frequent side-effect of cancer treatments. Proceeds provide equipment, staffing and services to support lifesaving cancer care for children in our region at Golisano Children’s Hospital, one of nine centers in the state to offer a complete pediatric hematology/oncology program.
The final event of the month-long series featured cancer survivor Mackenzie Hummer shaving the head of Armando Llechu, chief officer, hospital operations and women’s and children’s services at Lee Health.
Clips for Cancer was created in 2018 after Llechu met Hummer and was inspired by her bravery and positive spirit. It’s very exciting! I never thought I’d be able to start something like this,” said Mackenzie.
Twelve years ago, on January 29, 2008, then 8-year-old Mackenzie was diagnosed with an aggressive, cancerous brain tumor called medulloblastoma. Thirty surgeries, 30 radiation treatments, 10 months of chemotherapy and numerous hospital stays would follow.
“What most people don’t realize is that sometimes, not often, the hair doesn’t grow back and for Mackenzie that’s the case,” said Mackenzie’s mom, Carrie Hummer. “For Mackenzie, she hasn’t had hair since she was 8 years old. The type of radiation and amount of radiation she had and some of the late effects of treatment killed most of her hair follicles. She barely remembers what it is like to have hair. So, for her, this is very empowering and it means a lot that these adults volunteered to lose their hair, for her and kids like her, when they didn’t have too.”
Currently, Mackenzie is battling late-effect complications as a result of the treatments she received to save her life. She is a strong young hero who continues to defy the odds every day. Llechu was joined by Dr. Venkat Prasad, chief medical officer population health and physician services, and Sarai Hernandez-Salinas, pediatric cancer survivor for the final day of shaving.
“I am humbled by how this event has grown. It was my vision three years ago to connect in a real way with our childhood cancer patients and meet them where they are in that experience of losing their hair,” Llechu said. “These families and their children are the heroes, and Clips for Cancer is about them. It’s incredible to see their smiles and honor their journey in a way the community has truly embraced.”
Contributors who helped in the success of Clips for Cancer include Great Clips, the salon sponsor who provided space for live shaving events every Friday and encouraged customer donations. Eleven salons took part this year with franchisees Jack Leaf, Jeffrey Scholl and Jennifer Small sharing their salons for the event.
“We knew when we participated last year that Clips for Cancer was truly special,” said Jeffrey Scholl, Great Clips salon owner and franchisee. “Given the challenges of COVID-19, our Great Clips salons wanted to make sure we could still help. The result has been even better than we imagined. We are proud to be part of an event that brings awareness to the issue of pediatric cancer.”
While Childhood Cancer Awareness month is celebrated in September the battle is 365 days a year at Golisano. This year more than 50 families have heard the words, “your child has cancer.” To read more about Barbara’s Friends and the children’s survivor stories go to BarbarasFriends.org.