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For cancer support, the brave give locks

Students wince and watch excitedly as donors' hair is buzzed off for cancer survivors. Meanwhile, research funds are raised.

November 12, 2010|By Tom Ragan, tom.ragan@latimes.com
  • Kiefer Cohen, 17, sports a "Friar Tuck" look as he has his head shaved during the Shave for the Brave event at Corona del Mar High School on Friday. The event raised money for the American Cancer Society.
Kiefer Cohen, 17, sports a "Friar Tuck" look… (KENT TREPTOW, Daily…)

It had all the atmosphere of a public execution straight out of a black-and-white Western.

At high noon Friday, nearly a dozen teachers and coaches from Corona del Mar High School, draped in black protective shawls, turned to face their tormentors: hair stylists who shaved their heads in the name of cancer research.

As pop music blared from speakers, students emerged from the shadows of their classrooms and gravitated en masse toward the stage as the faculty appeared to the cheers of their students.

But when English teachers Autumn Emme and Dawn Kerrigan began to have their hair chopped off, the crowd fell silent. A few girls were on the verge of tears.

"Oh my god — that's so brave," winced Marika Gerkin, a junior, as she looked on with her friend, Cassidy Napolitano. "I could never do that — I don't think."

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But off with their hair they did, both Emme and Kerrigan, as they sat side by side, stoic as they faced the crowd.

Afterward, Emme explained the sacrifice.

"Way too many people are dying from cancer, and it's not just people I'm hearing about — it's people I know," said Emme, 32. "It's getting to the point where it's hitting every family, both mine and others. I lost my mother-in-law to cancer. I lost my maternal grandparents to cancer. Something's got to be done."

Emme acted on her inspiration and organized Friday's Shave for the Brave, which has raised $8,000, with the ultimate goal of $10,000. The money will go directly to the American Cancer Society, which will funnel it into research.

The hair will be given to cancer survivors in the region who have undergone radiation and chemotherapy and have lost their hair as a result.

If you think Emme feels bad about losing her long brown hair, try to imagine those who are facing daily treatments of radiation and chemotherapy, said Mary Beth Molnar and Lynn Ramsey, PTA volunteers who were taking donations feet away from the stage.

"This is for a great cause," Ramsey said. "You can just feel the excitement in the air, too. Listen to it."

Sami Rekoon, a senior who helped Emme put the event together, said she had a hard time at first finding a local salon to cut the hair.

Then after asking 10 different salons, she hit pay dirt in Toni&Guy in Fashion Island.

"Most of the salons were either too busy or they just didn't have the money to pay for the empty chair they were going to leave behind if they came out here today," Rekoon said.

But not Toni&Guy.

Joshua Marzioli, a hair stylist and the salon's creative director, didn't bat an eye.

"It's important to give back to the community as much we can," he said. "Everybody knows somebody who's died of cancer. I lost my grandfather. He was 65. He died of colon cancer. He was my dad's dad. Grandpa Joe. Good ol' Grandpa Joe.

"Then there's my mom's mom. She died of breast cancer. She was 72."

Asked about the technique involved in shaving heads, Marzioli said, "It's nothing. It's easy.

"It's just 'clipper to head' and just buzz it off," he said.

Some day, Alison Almquist, a San Francisco Bay area college student, hopes to join the group on stage.

"I just wish I had the courage some day," Almquist said as she watched her father, Gary Almquist, director of student activities, get his head shaved. "It's very brave."

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