Holy Cross Sophomore Shaves Head to Raise Awareness for Pediatric Cancer

Marielle McKenna a member of the College of the Holy Cross class of 2014, is an active fundraiser for the St. Baldrick’s foundation, an organization that funds pediatric cancer research grants. Recently, she decided she wanted to do something more for children with cancer.

“A friend of mine shaved her head for St. Baldrick’s foundation and I thought she was crazy. I thought donating her hair was going far enough and shaving was an unnecessary extreme,” shares McKenna. “I thought I could never do something like that. Then after reflecting on it for a while and seeing how happy my friend was, I asked myself why couldn’t I do something like that!? I went online to the website and signed up as a shavee.”

Over winter break McKenna, who is from Kenilworth, Ill., and three friends made an appointment at her local hair salon. “I came to understand why shaving is a very necessary extreme: to stand in solidarity with kids with cancer,” she shares.  “It was also important to encourage people to begin questioning why hair is so celebrated in our culture and to challenge them to disengage from that way of thinking. Baldness is not something to be feared because it is different. There is beauty in being bald, in being strong, and in being a fighter.”

On campus, McKenna is trying to raise awareness about pediatric cancer as well. “With long hair being the norm for girls at Holy Cross, I felt that the “Bald is Beautiful” cause would spur the desired conversation of what defines femininity, yet I did not want to return from winter break with a shaved head and be welcomed back with whispers and stares.”

In the weeks before winter break, McKenna along with students from HC for a Cure and Student Health Awareness Peer Educators (SHAPE) sold gold bandannas (gold is the color of the pediatric cancer ribbon) to educate students and raise awareness. They decorated the gold bandannas with phrases: “Bald is beautiful,” “St. Baldrick’s 2011,” “Be bald, be brave,” and more, and everyone wore them for a day to present a unified front. “The bandannas were wildly popular and we sold out, raising more than $300, all of which HC for a Cure generously donated to my St. Baldrick’s fundraising webpage,” says McKenna, who raised more than $3,000 for the foundation by shaving her head.

During her time at Holy Cross, McKenna met Lenore Montanaro ’12, a three-time cancer survivor and above-the-knee amputee. Lenore’s brother, John, passed away in April of 2011 from leukemia at age 19. “I chose to honor both Lenore and John with shaving, which made it much more personal and meaningful,” shares McKenna.

McKenna says she learned a lot from the experience. “I know that I am incredibly lucky that I am able to shave my head voluntarily and for a worthwhile cause. I am not sick, but I am able to help those who are and understand a little of what it’s like to stand in their shoes.”

Active in the Holy Cross community, she is a member of Pax Christi and Women’s Forum, a communion minister, and a volunteer at the Nativity School in Worcester, where she teaches students American Sign Language (ASL) in an after-school program.

A Spanish major, who has taken four semesters of ASL, she is interested in pursuing a career in languages and communication.

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