by Sue Ann Rybak
Every three minutes a child is diagnosed with cancer worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. And sadly, one in five will die before reaching adulthood. Audrey Hinchey, 15, a sophomore at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, is on a mission to change that.
While most teenage girls would rather throw their cellphones into the ocean than shave their heads, Hinchey, who aspires to become a pediatric oncologist, recently “Braved the Shave,” a head-shaving event sponsored by the St. Baldrick’s Foundation to help raise money to support childhood cancer research. The foundation is based in Monrovia, California, but they have fundraising events all over the country.
When Hinchey was asked to describe her experience, she said “Incredible is an understatement. When I walked in Fado Irish Pub (in center city), I was greeted by friendly faces and quickly sat in ‘the chair.’ Looking into the crowd, I saw many familiar faces, and it was awesome having support from most of my family and friends. The shaver was glided through my hair in about five minutes. It was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever been a part of.”
Traci Shirk, a spokeswoman for St. Baldrick’s Foundation, said because kids with cancer often lose their hair during treatment, participants are encouraged to show their support by shaving their heads and inspiring their friends and family to donate money to support childhood cancer research.
“St. Baldrick’s volunteers are critical in the fight to conquer kids’ cancer,” said Shirk. “Without their support and the funds they raise, St. Baldrick’s would not be able to carry out its mission to fund the most promising childhood cancer research and give survivors long and healthy lives.”
Approximately one in 285 children will be diagnosed with cancer before he/she turns 20, according to the American Cancer Society. One difference between adult and childhood cancers is that most childhood cancers are not related to lifestyle factors, and little can be done to prevent them, according to St. Baldrick Foundation’s website. Also, “Many adult cancers can be diagnosed early, but childhood cancers often go undiagnosed until they have spread to other areas of the body.”
Even if children do survive to adulthood, two-thirds of childhood cancer survivors have a serious medical condition and/or disability as a direct result of their treatments, according to the American Cancer Society. “For example, children treated for brain tumors, a leading cancer in children, may experience seizures, weakness in the arms and legs, blindness, hearing loss and neurocognitive deficits,” said Desiree Berenguer Carton, a spokesperson for the American Cancer Society.
Tragically, Hinchey’s family knows first-hand the devastating effects of cancer. Audrey’s father Tom Hinchey’s first cousins, Michael and Marianne Hinchey, died when they were about 11 years old from leukemia. And Audrey’s father’s cousin’s son, Kyle, died of a brain tumor when he was only 11 years old. “To this day, when we see Kyle’s parents, Joan and Allen Kerpan, they say Audrey and Kyle had a special connection,” said Patti Hinchey, Audrey’s mother.
Unfortunately Audrey said she barely remembers Kyle. “I have one specific memory of him and me in the kitchen of his house,” she added. “We were just hanging out, and he kept laughing. We went back and forth telling jokes and acting as ‘normal’ children. That day, he was so smiley, and it was awesome.”
Most people would be surprised to learn that cancer is the second leading cause of death (following accidents) in children ages 5-14, according to the American Cancer Society. A study in “Cancer Journal for Clinicians” in 2014 estimated that 15,780 children and adolescents aged 0 to 19 will be diagnosed with cancer yearly in the U.S., and 1,960 will die of it.
But thanks to “shavees” like Audrey, Daisy W., one of St. Baldrick Foundation’s ambassadors, who are chosen to represent the thousands of kids touched by childhood cancer, has hope. Just last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new drug to treat high-risk neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that most often occurs in young children. Kathleen Ruddy, CEO of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, said the immunotherapy treatment is the result of 20 years of work. “Thanks to our many volunteers and generous donors, we’ve done a lot … ”
And slowly treatments are working. Daisy is only one example that research is making an impact.
According to the St.Baldrick Foundation’s website, since Daisy completed treatment for medulloblastoma, a brain tumor, her signature belly laugh, “full of happiness and irrepressible, is slowly coming back.”
Hinchey, of Lafayette Hill, said she learned about the organization last year when two boys at her old elementary school, Norwood-Fontbonne Academy, shaved their heads. “I thought ‘Wow, I’ll never have the guts to do that,’” she said in a telephone interview prior to the event. “Then, I decided that now is the time to do it — if ever I wanted to.”
Hinchey said she hopes it will give her “a glimpse of how kids with cancer feel. I am definitely going to get the looks and stares that they get.”
Graciela Vargas, Audrey’s advisor at SCH Academy said Audrey is a very hard working student who strives to excel in all her classes. “Audrey is passionate about causes she cares about,” she said. “She is always thinking about ways to help others. I have no doubt that Audrey will do many more good things in this world as time goes on.”
For more information about St. Baldrick’s Foundation or other “Brave the Shave” events, visit www.stbaldricks.org