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Planet Head Day gives those impacted by cancer the opportunity to make a statement

Monday, 27 February 2012

Event raises more than $29,000 for C-A-N-C-E-R

For little Hadley McLean, being surrounded by shaved heads during the sixth annual Planet Head Day at the University of Maine at Presque Isle was a chance to feel like everyone else.

The nine-year-old daughter of Tim and Holly McLean is fighting brain cancer and has lost her headful of hair to chemotherapy treatments. But Hadley was in excellent company on Saturday, Feb. 18, during Planet Head Day, when she was one of about 100 people who proudly sported bald heads (or donned plastic bald caps to give them that appearance) and had them painted to look like planets, moons and other heavenly bodies as part of a very unique cancer fundraiser.

Planet Head Day celebrates space science while serving as a fundraiser for C-A-N-C-E-R [Caring Area Neighbors for Cancer Education and Recovery]. It also provides participants with a very visible way to honor the memory of a loved one who has battled cancer or show support for someone undergoing cancer treatment. This year the event raised more than $29,000, nearly doubling the amount raised last year.

In fact, Planet Head Day has doubled the amount of money raised every year since its inception in 2007. That was the year Jeanie McGowan, the Coordinator for Educational Outreach with UMPI's Northern Maine Museum of Science, was recovering from chemotherapy. It was also the year she and museum director Dr. Kevin McCartney were searching for a way to celebrate the museum's participation in the educational outreach for the NASA NEW HORIZONS program, which launched a spacecraft scheduled to arrive at Pluto in 2015. Both of them felt that an event celebrating both science education and cancer awareness was needed, and the rest is history.

"Planet Head Day and C-A-N-C-E-R have together grown over the past five years, with each assisting the other's mission of science education and cancer awareness," said McCartney, who serves as co-organizer for the event. He has now had his head shaved and painted six times as Pluto.

This year, Planet Head Day was held in a packed Wieden Gymnasium, with barbers and hairdressers at the ready with chairs and clippers along one sideline, science and cancer education displays around the rest of the perimeter, photographing and commemorative certificate printing in one corner, and, right in the middle of it all, long tables with plenty of art supplies and cardboard Saturn rings for those who wanted to be transformed into Planet Heads.

People came from all over Aroostook County and western New Brunswick, and as far away as Boston, to take part in Planet Head Day and support loved ones who were shaving their heads for a good cause. Event organizers estimated that more than 275 people participated in the three-hour event.

That included some very special Planet Heads like Brian Hamel who raised more than $7,000 for the event, and Father Jean Paul Labrie, who raised nearly $4,500. Other individuals who did very serious fundraising for the event included Mike Sullivan who works in UMPI's Admissions Office and raised $2,000 on his own, and Andy Soucier and Jay Reynolds from The Aroostook Medical Center, who together raised $1,000.

Other major supporters included Pizza Hut, which helped to raise $2,000 for Planet Head Day in its local restaurants in the weeks leading up to the event (they also donated 40 pizzas the day of the event and had six Planet Head participants, including Maine Vice President of Operations Fred Saul who shaved his head). Local television station WAGM-TV, led by anchor Chris Weimer and reporter Shawn Cunningham, raised more than $4,000 for the event as part of its "Help WAGM Help Planet Head Day" campaign. Weimer shaved his head for the cause and Cunningham donned a cap to show her support. Fellow on-air personality and WAGM weatherman Ted Shapiro served as announcer during the event, tag-teaming with UMPI student Andrew Hunt to keep the crowd entertained with fun facts, fundraising updates, and interviews with event participants.

Event organizers estimated that more than 30 volunteers helped out with this year's Planet Head Day, giving more than 100 volunteer-hours just on the day of the event. Along with UMPI and C-A-N-C-E-R officials and volunteers, there were the Knotty Knitters, who created 47 knit caps to be given away for free to those who shaved their heads that day.

There was also Lynwood Winslow of Presque Isle, who volunteered his laptop, camera, and printing technology to photograph each Planet Head and produce a Planet Head certificate for participants to take home. Jessica Blackstone helped Winslow to take the photos for this effort. And don't forget about the hair removal experts – Patrick Coughlin and Jack Williams of Parsons Street Barber Shop and Donna Raymond and Amanda Durost from Great Beginnings Hair Boutique. Volunteer head painters included Denise Theriault, owner of Great Beginnings Hair Boutique, Kaitlin Calabrese, Michaela Dube, Dawn King and April Winslow-Cote.

Because of all this support and these volunteer efforts, all of the money raised during Planet Head Day will go to support area community members diagnosed with cancer. The group C-A-N-C-E-R strives to help patients with travel expenses and other treatment-related expenses that are not covered by insurance or other programs. C-A-N-C-E-R has also, in special circumstances, helped in other appropriate ways, to bridge gaps in the patient's financial situation until a more permanent solution can be secured. C-A-N-C-E-R volunteers also make Bread of Life bags (filled with homemade bread and baked items) and deliver them monthly to those undergoing cancer treatment.

Planet Head Day ensures they can keep supporting their neighbors impacted by cancer in these helpful ways. The event also leaves just about everyone feeling like they've accomplished something special, something important by being a part of the big day.

Take Wade Bright, for example. When he saw Hadley McLean join in the festivities, he asked her if she would do him the honor of shaving his head. Smiling with joy, her answer was a resounding, "Yes!" Neighbors supporting neighbors in an out-of-this-world kind of way – that's what Planet Head Day is all about.

Even though Planet Head Day is over, you can still make a donation to C-A-N-C-E-R. Donations can be sent directly to the group at C-A-N-C-E-R, P.O. Box 811, Presque Isle, ME 04769, or call Louise Calabrese at 207-764-0766.