Whoops and applause rang out as Melanye Harden’s blonde locks fell in clumps to the ground. Tears streaked down her face.
“You are my hero!” shouted Franki Senter of Raleigh.
Another person in the crowd yelled out, “You are beautiful!”
Harden, a cancer survivor, was one of 33 people who got their heads shaved at Apex High School on Friday. The event raised about $7,000 for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a group that funds child-cancer research.
The school surpassed its goal of $5,000.
Harden raised $2,715 by reaching out to friends and family on Facebook.
“I cried not about losing my hair,” said Harden, a driver’s education teacher. “I was crying because of how far I’ve come. The last time (I lost my hair), it wasn’t my choice. This time is was. It was liberating.”
Harden shaved her head in honor of Tristan Wachter, a sophomore at Apex High School who was diagnosed in February with acute myeloid leukemia, a type of blood cancer.
“I just know what he and his family are going through,” Harden said. “I wanted to show my support. People that are survivors, you have a kinship that goes beyond anything else. You look at the world in a different way, with a sense of hope.”
Wachter, 15, said he was overwhelmed by the show of support from his teachers, students and football teammates.
Even the school principal, Matt Wight, shaved the sides of his head to create a mohawk. But students and teachers couldn’t convince him to keep the hairdo for a week.
The Apex High community helped Wachter’s family while he was in the hospital. Moms from the football team cooked meals, giving them one less thing to worry about.
“It means the world to me what people are doing,” Wachter said. “There’s no way I can thank them enough for that. There’s no way. Hopefully, this money will go to fund a cure so that other little kids don’t have to be in the hospital.”
Wachter is set to undergo a bone marrow transplant later this month.
But on Friday, one person after another sat down in a chair to lose their manes.
“That these kids are willing to do this on the day before prom, with graduation coming up soon is really something,” said Senter, a friend of Harden’s family who attended the event.
Harden, who has been cancer-free for four years, survived non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Senter called her “a light.”
“A lesser person would have withered and given up,” Senter said. “She kicked its butt. She said, ‘Bring it on. It’s not going to win.’ ”
Plenty of support
Teacher Tim Kane said he was inspired to organize the St. Baldrick’s event at the high school after learning about Harden and at least three students who were going through cancer treatment or were diagnosed with cancer.
“(Harden) is proof that what we are doing here today is making a difference,” Kane said.
Harden said there’s no shortage of support at her school.
“This is how we do it at Apex High School,” she said. “We are a family. We treat everyone like family. We do what we have to do for each other.”
For Delaney Boulo, 18, who shaved her head Friday, cancer has hit close to home. Her mother, Becky Boulo, was diagnosed with breast cancer last April; she underwent surgery and chemotherapy and is in remission.
But cancer has left a lasting impression on Delaney.
“I wanted to do it,” she said of shaving her head. “It was my choice, and a lot of people don’t have that choice. I give it a voice. When people ask me about why I’m bald, I can tell them I shaved it to support kids’ cancer. I’m really proud of my head.”
It doesn’t matter that she won’t have hair for her prom and graduation, Delaney Boulo said.
“It’s just hair, and it’ll grow back,” she said.