As many know, there was a fairly large charity event on campus this week for St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a pediatric cancer charity. Let me begin, I am not at all against advocacy or raising awareness for cancer charities. St. Baldrick’s deals with their money very ethically. All proceeds go into funding for pediatric cancer treatments. So, I do not mean this post as an attack against St. Baldrick’s or those who participated in the Brave the Shave event. However, I, and many others who have been diagnosed with cancer, find a serious problem with some of the methods used by cancer charities, including St. Baldrick’s. First, one of St. Baldrick’s main methods in fundraising is stating that pediatric cancer receives the lowest amount of funding from the greater cancer fund. While this is technically true, it is misleading. Yes, the pediatric fund is the smallest, but children diagnosed with cancer also receive funding from the specific diagnosis funds (e.g. Leukemia, lung cancer, etc.). This is not to say that the pediatric fund is not in need of support, but I believe it is misleading to market it the way that St. Baldrick’s does. My main issue is with the Brave the Shave event. While initially the event may seem to be in support and solidarity of and with those going through chemotherapy, it is viewed as insensitive and offensive by those in the cancer community. While I myself have not yet gone through chemotherapy (and hopefully never will), I must agree with this. Seeing people smiling and laughing while shaving their heads is deeply hurtful and seeing those who have shaved their heads everyday is just an additional, persistent reminder of what they have, are, or going to have to go through. Losing your hair while going through chemotherapy is not a choice you get to make; it is a symbol of the illness they are experiencing and symbol of their own mortality. The Sun did a story about an almost identical event hosted by the Macmillan’s foundation (https://www.thesun.co.uk/living/1725639/cancer-survivors-slam-macmillan-brave-the-shave-campaign-calling-it-disrespectful-and-offensive/). Here are some of the accounts they collected:
“But people who have lost their hair to the condition have taken to Mumsnet in fury, accusing the cancer charity of being out of touch with patients.
One user wrote: ‘I can barely articulate how completely distasteful it is,’ while another added: ‘Completely agree about it being distasteful. I meet women suffering from cancer on a regular basis and none of them are happy about losing their hair from chemotherapy.’
Another shared her hair loss story and accused the charity of offending other cancer sufferers.
She wrote: ‘I hate these campaigns. I didn’t lose my hair with my previous chemo, but now I’m clinging to the last wispy bits covering my head.’
‘It is not just about ‘braving the shave’. It’s facing up to the reality that even if/when my hair starts to grow back, I’m unlikely to live long enough that it’ll ever be this length again.
‘My hair falls out everywhere. My scalp is all tingly and sore and flaky. The experience of just shaving off your hair for a laugh is just not comparable at all.
‘All the big cancer charities seem to have completely lost touch with the actual experience of cancer patients.
‘I know they need to make money, but why can’t they do it in ways that don’t upset or offend the people they want to support?
‘Though it’s partly about public demand I suppose.
‘Often the most vehement supporters have absolutely no cancer experience.”
Another sufferer made the point that shaving your head does not ‘make you brave’.
She wrote: ‘I try not to watch these adverts. It actually hurts my head – from the ghost pains of when my hair was coming out during chemo.’”
I want to make it clear that I do not believe that anyone who did shave their head as part of this event had any ill-intent nor am I claiming that this is the opinion of every person with cancer, but I do wish people would put more thought into how it might affect people. There are plenty of ways to show support and stand in solidarity with those going through something as tough as cancer, because ultimately, Brave the Shave is not support, but rather hurtful parody.