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Evanston resident ten-year-old Ainsley Burns is a pediatric cancer survivor who is at the heart of a head shaving event to raise money for pediatric cancer research with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. Volunteers will have their heads shaved at the McGaw YMCA Children’s Center,1420 Maple Ave., on March 15.
As the event’s honor child, Ainsley Burns and her mother will attend the event and celebrate her eleventh birthday the next day. The event website states that Ainsley was diagnosed with Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis at the age of two and that her status is currently “in maintenance.”
“We’ve all had cancer touch our lives, but it seems particularly cruel when a child is diagnosed with the “C” word,” said Kristin O’ Connor, a volunteer event co-organizer for the March 15 event. Ms. O’Connor said she decided to start organizing the event after being inspired last March by a friend of a friend who was a shavee.
Ms. O’ Connor says she has been working closely with fellow event co-organizer Kelly Siddiqui to arrange a St. Baldrick’s head shaving event in Evanston. Both women are lead participants for the event and will shave their heads along with 14 others and stand in solidarity with children diagnosed with cancer. Each of the women has personally experienced what it is like to have someone in their lives affected by the disease.
Ms. Siddiqui once worked at the Cancer Center at Riley Hospital for Children.“I saw what childhood cancer was like and how awful it is. It takes so much away from their childhood,” said Ms. Siddiqui. “Cancer doesn’t discriminate, childhood cancer especially, and it can affect any of us at any time.”
Ms. O’Connor and Ms. Siddiqui said the process of organizing the event was slow at first. “We didn’t have any other shavees with us for a long time,” said Ms. Siddiqui. “But then all of a sudden it started to snowball.”
Both women sent out letters to civic organizations in Evanston and went to local businesses seeking donations. They said the McGaw YMCA has been very supportive of the event as well as local schools.
“We are in a college town with a lot of social activism and this is just one more thing that makes Evanston a great place to be that can support something like this,” said Ms. O’Connor.
Of the 16 participants, five women have signed up as well as a team of Evanston firefighters and the McGaw YMCA’s president/CEO, Bill Geiger.
Ms. O’Connor said they plan on wearing buttons after the head shaving event that will say, “Ask me why I am bald.”
“It is very little effort on our part to shave our head,” said Ms. O’Connor. “Were standing up for kids with cancer and making a statement.”
“I’ve already thought about how I am going to feel after and I think there is a high chance there will be tears,” said Ms. Siddiqui. “It’s not the mourning of the hair but the symbolism and the emotions of it.”
Ms. O’Connor said the event date was intentionally set close to St. Patrick’s day and that there will be Irish dancers from Milwaukee, Wis., performing at the event as well as some of the high school students who participate in Brillianteen musical.
St. Baldrick’s is a volunteer-based charity that focuses on providing funding to the “most promising” pediatric research. The St. Baldrick’s website lists the total amount of childhood cancer research grants that the foundation has funded with a total of $78,804,186 since 2005.
According to the McGaw YMCA Children’s Center’s event website, participants have already raised $18,616, approaching the event’s goal of $20,000 for pediatric cancer research.