For months, Mathy Davis’ favorite accessory was a big yellow button that read, “Ask me why I am bald.”
“Some people thought I had cancer — at the grocery store and other places — and I was always proud to tell them that I raised money for awareness of childhood cancer,” Davis said about her first time as a participant of St. Baldrick’s Foundation Head-Shaving, raising over $1,000 that year.
The foundation held its 11th annual “Brave the Shave” event in the Rio Grande Valley on Saturday at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, where Davis marked the third time she’s shaved her head for pediatric cancer research.
As one of 45 others who left the conference center bald, Davis said that she will continue doing it for as long as she can.
“In my little way, I am able to help the cause and fund for research and a cure,” Davis, a registered nurse at the Doctors of Hospital at Renaissance, said. “I am just thinking about how I am going to keep doing it. I like my hair, but it’s just hair. It is just a regular haircut day.”
In the three years that Davis has participated, she has raised more than $3,000.
All proceeds, collected from monetary donations to volunteers who shave their heads, go toward the foundation, the largest private funder of childhood cancer research grants. With the vision of “leading the charge to take childhood back from cancer,” the foundation has raised over $258 million since 2005. The goal this year was to raise $25,000.
In the U.S, more children past infancy are lost to cancer than any other disease, according to the National Cancer Institute. However, because of recent treatment advances, more than 80 percent of children with cancer survive five years longer — an increase from the mid-1970s when the five-year survival rate was 58 percent.
Robert Heiser, the volunteer event organizer who founded the RGV fundraiser said that he is excited about recent breakthroughs in cancer research and that investing is imperative for more discoveries.
“Kids cancer is treated differently from adult cancer,” said Heiser, who lives in Ohio and comes down to the Valley during winter seasons. “Because of funding, we have been able to make treatment a lot less painful and scary for kids. We want to provide funding specifically for childhood cancer, because they are often overlooked.”
Heiser, a retired citizen, emphasized that now a blood test can diagnose the type of cancer instead of an invasive bone marrow biopsy. Nine-year-old Joaquin Alvarado knows this research’s importance all too well.
Alvarado was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia at the age of 4, and by 8, endured 28 lumbar punctures, four bone marrow biopsies and has taken over thousands of pills. For years, he was taking 52 pills a week.
His mother, Cynthia Vasquez of Pharr, said that though he showed a strong front throughout the journey, it was difficult for her to see her son sick.
“For him, since he was little, he was not phased, but we were,” Vasquez said. “I had to see what they did to him. I had to see him puking every morning, and at 2 in the morning asking me for an ice pop because his belly was on fire because of the medication — medication he took for three-and-a-half years that hurt his stomach because it was meant for an adult, not a child.”
On March 24, 2017, Alvarado rang the bell at Vannie Cook Children’s Center in McAllen, signaling the end of treatment, and the beginning of his cancer-free life. He is a fourth grader at Daniel Ramirez Elementary and find joy in playing with his two cats, Vincent and Stephan.
Vasquez said that it is important to her that people invest in the foundation specifically, since the proceeds go to childhood cancer and local research facilities.
“This money stays here for the clinics here,” Vasquez said. “These events prove to us that there is hope; hope to find a cure. We see new faces every time we go to the clinic, and that is not right.”
At the back of the hall, a raffle table and auction booths were running. Showcasing decorated sun hats and house decorations, all the proceeds went to the foundation. Patrolling around were people in Star Wars costumes from 501 Legion, teaching children how to fight the bad with good.
This year was Jordan Mendiola-Tagle’s first year shaving her head at the event, and says that it was special to her because she remembered a woman she knew who died from breast cancer.
“I did not know her that well and when she got cancer, we visited her family a lot,” Mendolia-Tagle, 20, said. “It was hard because she was cured, but then it came back. When she passed away, I found out that she bought me earrings. I was not close to her, but she was still thinking about me. It just touched me, and it taught me how to be more aware and appreciative of the people around.
“I want people to get involved. When I go to school and go to church. People are going to ask me, ‘Why did you do that,’ and I get to tell them about this amazing person.”