Fighting blood cancer with hair clippers

The World's Greatest Shave encourages individuals and groups to participate, by shaving their heads and beards or colouring them. Photo: World's Greatest Shave/Facebook.

By TILEAH DOBSON

I’ve always been interested in my family history. Knowing where my bloodline came from, various family secrets and insights that could shine a light on who I was. To help me understand my identity and place in this world.

I found the usual European descent—more specifically, a heavy Celtic background through both my paternal and maternal sides. I even had a great-something grandfather come to Australia as a convict for stealing bacon.

But then, the medical history came through and the discoveries were not pleasant. Mental health issues like depression and anxiety, particularly through the women.

Even before researching my family history, I knew the big C – cancer – also lurked in the family, coming through in various forms. Skin cancer, ovarian cancer, brain cancer, lung cancer … they all came and spirited away loved ones like my grandparents, my aunt, great uncles. By 2020, I had lost over five friends and family to cancer. Besides screaming, crying and the usual grief processes, I wanted to do something.

It’s not like I could grab some boxing gloves and sock cancer in its imaginary jaw. Although that would be satisfying but pointless. So, two years ago, I chose to raise money to help fund research, provide resources for patients and spread awareness.

My two initial options were Dry July, which encourages people to sign up and give up alcohol for the entire month of July and ask for sponsors. I barely drink alcohol, so this seemed redundant for me as it wasn’t a real sacrifice.

I went with my second option, the World’s Greatest Shave. While this focuses mainly on blood cancer, it is still a worthy cause to participate in. And I thought at the time that shaving my head would be enough of a sacrifice, as my hair was halfway down my back.

My parents had joined in and all three of us shaved our heads in support of blood cancer research. I did not refrain from constantly rubbing my shaven head. Photos: Tileah Dobson.

The sign-up process was easy and soon, I was asking for donations for the goal of $560, to help give regional families money to find a place to sleep near treatment centres for a week. That goal then moved to $1,200 as people began donating in the latter half.

It was a slow start, as I didn’t get any donations for the first two weeks. Despite constantly bombarding on Facebook and other social media, no one gave a cent. Then the tide turned after the first couple of $10 and $20 donations.

Then my mum and dad joined, vowing to shave their heads in support of me and the cause. While my dad went bald, mum and I went down to a nice fuzz. After my parents joined in, more donations from family members down in Victoria came in, along with my parents’ co-workers.

I was beyond touched by the donations and the fact that I could surpass my first goal. I fell just short of $100 for the second goal but any money I was given was going to a good cause.

Then the day came and with the help of a friend who runs a weekend market, we set up and one of the stallholders turned out to be a hairdresser, so she had the honour of shaving our heads. Other stall owners donated, and customers watched on.

Celebrities have also joined the cause, with former NRL Cowboys star Ray Thompson sacrificing his iconic locks in support. Photo: World’s Greatest Shave/Facebook.

It’s been two years since then and my hair has grown to just under my shoulders. When I asked my parents for their reflections, they both agreed that they didn’t regret it.

“My motivation was supporting you to raise as much as possible. It was a fun day and great to see the community support at the markets,” Mum told me.

“Cancer is in our family. That’s a simple fact. There’s no use crying about it and it’s better to at least try and do something about it,” said Dad, who has kept his hair short since the shave.

While I’m not participating this year, I was lucky enough to speak to someone who was. Dr Matt Agnew has already shaved his head but has already raised $12,489.50 of his $30,000 goal. Agnew tackled this achievement for those in his life who’ve fought blood cancer.

“I do have some people who are near and dear to me who have battled through blood cancers. But even without that direct impact, it’s something I don’t think I need to wait, or anyone needs to wait to be directly affected to want to be involved,” Agnew explained.

“There are 110,000 who have blood cancer in Australia, and this is an opportunity to be able to contribute to something to help the battle against blood cancers. The funds that are raised through the World’s Greatest Shave do go directly to funding critical research for medical treatment and diagnosis.”

Dr Matt Agnew had his head and beard shaved on television in February but still hopes more people donate to his cause. Photo: supplied.

“It’s something that obviously does resonate with a lot of people, and I guess that it’s really heartbreaking that it does because it is something this is quite prevalent. But [there’s] that human element, that empathy to want to help and be able to contribute in some way and this is a way that people can contribute.”

If you would like to donate to Dr Matt Agnew’s cause, you can go to his fundraising page and help him get closer to his goal.

The World’s Greatest Shave’s ‘shave week’ runs from 16 to 20 March this year. Visit https://worldsgreatestshave.com for more information on the World’s Greatest Shave and how you can contribute.

Tileah Dobson is the news editor and sub-editor of the Sydney Sentinel.

For further news, features, reviews, interviews, opinion, podcasts and more, visit https://sydneysentinel.com.au. You can also like/follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.