Sabrina Khwaja

In an effort to raise funds for pediatric cancer research, members of the Austin community gathered on the steps of the Main Building on Saturday to shave their heads.

With the slogan “Go bald for a bold cause,” roughly 150 people registered to shave their heads for the Brave the Shave event. This year, Brave the Shave raised more than $50,000.

All of the proceeds of the event go to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, an organization that promotes fundraising events such as shaving heads to fund cancer and supportive care research for children and upgrading equipment for hospitals.

The organization Students Making Impacts Through Love and Empathy, S.M.I.L.E., hosts the annual event. Sabrina Khwaja, S.M.I.L.E. fundraising chair and sociology senior, said it is inspiring to see individuals be selfless and shave off all of their hair.  

“In essence, they’re kind of going through the process with these children that are affected with cancer,” Khwaja said. “Through chemotherapy your hair tends to fall out, so by volunteering to shave off your hair and show those children that ‘I am going through it with you’ ... it is overwhelming and wonderful to see this.”

Kalie Kubes, applied learning and development sophomore is a three-time cancer survivor. She said she had neuroblastoma at the age of 15 months and again at 2, and thyroid cancer at 18 and is at high risk for relapse. Although she is currently cancer-free, she said she believes everyone should shave their head to support someone enduring cancer at some point in their life.

“It definitely brings up some feelings that are really emotional sometimes,” Hughes said in a speech she gave during Brave the Shave. “You look at yourself in the mirror and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I just don’t have any hair.’ I never thought of myself as being bald, but it’s the best thing you could ever do.”

Sheldon Ekland-Olson, professor and school of human ecology director, said he promised his life and death decisions class — a class Khwaja is enrolled in — he would have his head shaved if it raised money for the cause. The class raised $1,842 and he shaved his head. 

“It’s important for me to see all of us do things for other people, and this is one of those events that does that,” Ekland-Olson said. “What I admire are the women who do this. It’s way harder for the women to get their heads shaved than it is for a man. It is definitely inspiring.”

Pre-nursing student Devon Strickland said she volunteered she decided to participate in Brave the Shave after hearing an American studies lecture on women’s suffrage.

“All at once I realized that throughout history many people have sacrificed themselves mentally and physically to fight battles and win wars they greatly supported.” Strickland said. “I just thought to myself, ‘Who am I?’ and, ‘What do I stand for if I can’t sacrifice beyond my limitations for something I so strongly believe in as finding a cure to cancer, especially childhood cancer?’ I did it because sometimes it may seem that cancer wins the battle but we will win the war.”

Khwaja said many people participated because they have been affected by cancer in one way or another. 

“This form of empathy allows awareness to spread, and most importantly, show those currently suffering from cancer are not alone,” Khwaja said. “By having our speakers share their personal stories battling cancer, and currently suffering from cancer, it gives our attendees a personal story to connect with. It makes cancer that more real, and calls for action to be taken. Those that contributed are making a real difference.” 

Trey Tavey, 3, helps shave his mother, Rhonda’s, head during St. Baldrick’s “Shave for a Cure” on the steps of the Main Building Saturday. Trey, who is one of the St. Baldrick’s feature kids, will soon begin chemotherapy and have a bone marrow transplant, Rhonda said.

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

Standing in solidarity with cancer patients, members of the Austin community shaved their heads on the steps of the Main Building Saturday.

Approximately 160 shavees registered to shave their heads and raised more than $55,000 for pediatric cancer research as a part of St. Baldrick’s cancer awareness event.

Hosted by Students Making Impacts Through Love and Empathy, this was the first year the University sponsored the “Shave for a Cure” event, said Sabrina Khwaja, S.M.I.L.E. fundraising chair and biology junior.

S.M.I.L.E. is an organization on campus that spends time with children who are going through cancer to help them channel their emotions through various art projects.

Participating in St. Baldrick’s was a perfect way to support the children, Khwaja said.

“St. Baldrick’s is a new foundation that was started to raise money for pediatric cancer, which is an extremely underappreciated field of research,” Khwaja said.

Khwaja said the organization hopes to make this an annual event, and its success during its first year at UT was amazing.

“We had a great turnout of both volunteers shaving their heads as well as people just coming out to see what ‘Shave for a Cure’ actually is,” Khwaja said.

Through all of the fundraising, sponsorships of shavees and other donations, S.M.I.L.E. raised more than $55,000 Khwaja said.

“This exceeded our initial goal of $50,000, and this actually was one of the top-earning St. Baldrick’s events,” Khwaja said.

A few people who were not registered to shave their heads actually became inspired by the shavees and participated on the spot, Khwaja said.

While S.M.I.L.E. organized the event, other UT organizations participated by having booths with various arts and craft events for the children with cancer who came out to the event Khwaja said.

St. Baldrick’s became a University event after Hispanic studies senior and S.M.I.L.E. president Sofia Buitrago participated last year as a shavee at the event hosted by Dell Children’s Hospital.

Buitrago said she raised more than $5,000 as a participant last year and was eager to bring an event like this to campus.

“There are many people who would love to help out with causes like this, so we wanted to do something that will help create more awareness about pediatric cancer research,” Buitrago said.

Buitrago said this event went a lot better than she had imagined and she was ecstatic about the turnout to support those shaving their heads.

“A lot of work was put in by S.M.I.L.E. members to make this event a success, but it would not have been possible without the volunteers helping coordinate everything throughout the day or those brave enough to shave their heads for this cause,” Buitrago said.

Government sophomore Kumail Hasan said it was great to see so many people out there checking out the event, and he was proud to participate as a shavee this year to honor those in his family who have had to fight cancer.

“Battling cancer is an extremely difficult thing to do, and they showed me anything was possible,” Hasan said. “This was my way to honor their effort.” 

Printed on Monday, April 2, 2012 as: Austinites shave to support research