Losing hair to gain a cure

schandler@newsobserver.comMarch 31, 2013 

Duncan McNeil of Raleigh had grown his hair out well past his ears, as seen at left, before the St. Bal- drick’s event last year. At right, he shows off his newly shaved head after the event.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF CHERYL MCNEIL

  • Other shavees

    Many other young people across the Triangle have also shaved their heads and raised money for St. Baldrick’s this year.

    Steve Snare and Anderson Ward, fourth-graders at St. Timothy’s School in Raleigh, went bald for a third year at a St. Baldrick’s event last month at The Factory in Wake Forest. This year they recruited St. Timothy’s eighth-grader Eric Farley and West Millbrook Middle School students Luke Nelson and Mason Burris to their team, Ashley’s Angels, named for a young friend Steve and Anderson’s age who is battling cancer.

    Together, the team members raised $9,065, far exceeding their goal of $5,000.

    At a different St. Baldrick’s event in March, more than 80 students and faculty members from The Ravenscroft School in Raleigh shaved their heads or cut their hair. The event, which was organized by Ravenscroft students, raised more than $93,000 for childhood cancer research.

Duncan McNeil has been growing his hair out for nearly a year, but it’s no fashion statement. It’s so there’s maximum impact when he gets it all shaved off this Sunday at a St. Baldrick’s event at Lynnwood Grill in Raleigh.

This will be Duncan’s third year of participation with St. Baldrick’s, a national charity that asks volunteers to collect donations for childhood cancer research and to shave their heads in solidarity with the young patients the organization aims to help.

Duncan, 12, was inspired to get involved after attending a St. Baldrick’s event to cheer on family members of a neighbor boy who had leukemia. Soon after, he told his parents that he wanted in on the fun.

“We were just very proud of him, that he was willing to do it,” said his mother, Cheryl McNeil.

That first year, Duncan, who lives in Raleigh, raised around $500 for St. Baldrick’s, mostly from friends and family, with help from his parents to spread the word on Facebook. This year, he hopes to raise at least $600.

“I really like the fact that I’m able to help,” he said of why he’s stuck with it, “and it’s also an excuse to go to Lynnwood Grill.”

Since his first shaved head, another young neighbor was diagnosed with leukemia, and a teenage friend of the family died from cancer. It all serves as a reminder to Duncan that there’s something serious behind all the fun, and it’s why he’s not planning to give his hair more than a year of growth anytime soon.

“I want to do (St. Baldrick’s) until I have to go to college,” he said.

By now, Duncan is used to the feeling of a shaved head. And even his first time, he said, he wasn’t terribly nervous.

“It seemed just like getting your hair cut, except your head was just going to be very cold for a while,” he said.

He’s also used to the attention his bald head brings.

“People constantly ask you if they can rub it,” he said.

But a chilly head and a little extra attention are a small price to pay for the big dose of pride he gets from being able to help.

Besides, he doesn’t mind the way he looks with a bald head, and his mom thinks he looks just fine that way, too.

“I’ll get used to him having no hair, and then it’s kind of a shock when he has hair again, just back and forth,” Cheryl McNeil said. “When he gets it long and then shaves it off, there’s a little bit of a shock. But he looks good. He pulls it off.”

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