While the UNC Charlotte campus bustled with chattering co-eds strolling under the moonlight on a recent Friday night, Marissa Burchette was inside Cone University Center spending a few last minutes stroking her 2 feet of silky straight chestnut hair before it was cut from her head.
Burchette is the campus organizer for St. Baldrick’s Foundation’s shave-athon fundraiser, in which “shavees” promise sponsors they’ll shave their heads in exchange for donations to the childhood cancer research charity.
Burchette has known for weeks that on Sept. 26, she’d be without the hair she’d been growing for nearly four years.
“You can’t organize it and not do it. That’d be terrible,” the 20-year old junior said of her resolve to go bald.
For many women who cling to and care for their hair as a mother would her newborn, a head without tresses is unimaginable. For Burchette, however, it’s really no big deal.
“Shave your head? Yeah, that’s nothing in exchange for donations for these kids who can’t grow hair,” she said.
According to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation website, a child is diagnosed with cancer every three minutes. In the U.S., cancer takes more children’s lives than any other childhood disease.
But research into the kinds of cancers that attack children has come a long way: In the 1950s, a diagnosis was almost certainly a death sentence, whereas today, 90 percent of common childhood cancers are treatable.
Last year, St. Baldrick’s Foundation raised $34 million through events like shave-athons, sending 79 percent to fund research.
UNCC’s shave-athon has raised $2,831 so far, and donations continue to come in.
To Torie Costa, 18, a UNCC sophomore, the dozen participants who offered up their hair touched her heart.
Costa, who lives in Huntersville, was diagnosed with cancer in 2012. Losing her hair as a teenager, she said, was difficult.
“To do it for us, who don’t have a choice, it makes a huge difference,” said Costa.
Costa watched as, two by two, students took turns in the hairdressers’ chairs while crowds of onlookers cheered.
“You can just run a bar of soap over your head now,” one shouted as he watched mounds of clipped locks pile up on the floor.
Some shavees wanted it over with quickly. Others asked for designs, like reverse mohawks.
“The possibilities are endless, really. You can do zigzags or straight down,” said Lindsay Walker, a stylist with SportClips at Northlake who volunteered her services. “The hard part is figuring out who is going to let me be goofy with them and who’s going to cry.”
Hannah Durham, 19, said she felt her eyes tear up when she heard the clippers click on. But later she admired her bald head, likening the experience to an understudy finally getting her due once the stage curtains are pulled back.
“It’s kind of liberating,” said the UNCC psychology major, running her hands over her clean-shaven head.
For Burchette, who began collecting hats a while back to keep her head warm in the coming months, it’s a small sacrifice for a hopeful cause.
“You don’t need hair. It’s not like food or water,” said Burchette. “It’s just a socially constructed standard of beauty, and I honestly don’t think that’s what makes people beautiful.”