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Virgen's View: Going bald for the cause

When I stop by The Harp Inn in Costa Mesa, it's usually to unwind or to have a good time. But I was there for a different reason Sunday when the St. Baldrick's Foundation held its special head-shaving event to raise money for children's cancer research.

I still had a great time, one that ended up being deeply profound and meaningful. I never intended to become a part of the story. I did feel connected to the event because my father, Julian, died of leukemia when he was 50, and I also know people close to my heart who are dealing with other forms of cancer.

I can't imagine a child going through such a horrible ordeal. And then I think of the family too, and the pain they must feel. It can be overwhelming, especially if you have experienced any part of it.

What a great charity event, I thought, and I wanted to write about it. Mike Shannon changed my intent and my angle. Like so many people who deal with the effects of the disease, he changed my perspective on life: I can do more. I can be more.

Shannon is a pediatrician from San Clemente. He was one of 47 people who had their heads shaved at The Harp on Sunday. He was eating an Irish taco and drinking a beer when I stopped to talk to him at the bar. It seemed everyone at the event had a story to tell, a reason why they would go bald for charity.

I had to ask Shannon.

"I do it for all the kids I care for who have cancer or who have had cancer," he said.

That's great, I told him, and I thought I had enough for my story. But Shannon gave me more to write about. He offered a $500 donation to the St. Baldrick's Foundation if I went bald.

I thought about everyone in my life, and others I have written about who have cancer, and I agreed.

However, as I sat down to have the little hair that I had clipped off, I began to think: What on earth am I doing? I didn't even have any alcohol in me.

But I just laughed as I was introduced as Steve Virgen from the Daily Pilot and my story was told. I continued to smile because I wanted it to be a fun time, which it really was. I felt special to be a part of such a great event, and I'm sure the rest of the shavees would say the same.

Alan Baumgardner shaved my head. Last year, at the same event at The Harp, Baumgardner went bald after Shannon used the same proposal. That shaving went for $1,000, as someone else matched Shannon's $500 donation.

Baumgardner clipped my hair into a Mohawk, as Shannon snapped pictures that I would later post on my Facebook and Twitter pages, which resulted in colorful comments. For a moment I was the Latino version of Mr. T.

One last portion of hair remained to be clipped and Baumgardner left that for 12-year-old Clark Frehner of Ladera Ranch. Frehner has been shaving his head for the cause since he was 5. He has a cousin who has cancer and other friends dealing with the disease.

Later in the day, Frehner was knighted in a formal ceremony as he became a Knight of the Bald Table because of all the money he has raised and all the hair he has lost for the St. Baldrick's Foundation.

The foundation raised close to $60,000 Sunday, coming from the shavees, a silent auction and other items for sale. In addition, The Harp donated 10% of that day's sales to the cause.

Kathleen Price, a volunteer event organizer for St. Baldrick's, would call that a success. Last year, there were 17 shavees. She helped start the event in Orange County two years ago, when it was in Fullerton. Ins the past two events they raised just over $52,000.

Everyone seemed thrilled with the big jump. Price had thoughts of her sister, Michelle Bison, who died of breast cancer a year ago. The St. Baldrick's Foundation event at The Harp last year was Bison's last outing before passing, Price said.

"She was a huge supporter of St. Baldrick's," Price said of her sister. "She was bound and determined to get here last year."

Price, like so many at the event, continue to work for the cause with thoughts of others.

Before the shaving began, Alyson Weissman spoke. Her son, Jared, was 13 when he was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma. He is a survivor and Weissman continues to speak at events and help with any type of charity for cancer.

"There's nothing worse than your child being diagnosed with cancer," said Weissman, who is from Chino Hills. "There is no way to describe when the doctor says that your child has cancer. We were very lucky that we had a curable type. It was six months of chemotherapy and radiation. We were glad that he was cured.

"It changes everything about your life. It put me on a journey to raise funds for the St. Baldrick's Foundation. It's my passion. It's my mission and it's what I do."

Debi Hernandez also came from Chino Hills to support Weissman. Hernandez had her head shaved recently with Jared in mind, as well as others.

It amazed me to see the women go bald. The men can pull it off as a common style. "The chicks dig it," Shannon kept telling me to make me feel better about going bald. But it must be tougher for the women.

"My mom and mother-in-law both died of cancer," Hernandez said. "They were both very embarrassed by their hair and didn't want to go out in public. I shave my head in support of them."

Laurel Prow was another woman who went bald. It was her third time. She owns the hair salon Mem & Lu Lu's Powder Room in Costa Mesa. She shaves her head for all the children of her clients who have been affected by cancer, she said. This year she shaved her head for Nate O'Neill, who is the grandson of one of her longtime clients.

O'Neill, 23, used the electric clippers to shave some of Prow's head Sunday.

Prow invited her friend, Carrie Lester, an Estancia High School teacher who is also the softball coach for the Eagles. They both attended La Quinta High School and had worked at a hair salon together before. Lester volunteered to shave heads at the event.

There are plans to have the event again on a Sunday in March next year. Details can be found at the Facebook page: Team Go Bald or Go Home.

Who knows, maybe I'll go bald again.

STEVE VIRGEN is sports editor of the Daily Pilot, Huntington Beach Independent and Coastline Pilot.

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