Quick: what do the NASA New Horizons spacecraft mission and Aroostook County people who are in treatment for cancer have in common? Answer: passionate advocates for both science education and exploration and compassionate philanthropists who serve the needs of those in treatment for cancer. These two seemingly separate interest groups merge each February to celebrate the discovery of Pluto by hosting PLANET HEAD DAY.
Held at the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s Gentile Hall, the fifth annual Planet Head Day raised over $15,000 for C-A-N-C-E-R, Caring Areas Neighbors for Cancer Education and Recovery. The event, designed to improve awareness of space exploration and cancer, paints people’s heads as planets, dwarf planets and moons. The painting occurs after the heads are either shaved or covered with an elastic swim cap.
The buzz cuts were provided by Patrick Coughlin of Parsons Street Barbershop, and also Amanda Durost and Donna Raymond both from Great Beginnings Hair Boutique. An enthusiastic group of eight volunteer artists provided the expert painting. About half of the approximately 65 planet heads were shaved for the event with the others donning caps. All eight planets and dwarf planet Pluto were represented, with Uranus and Saturn being the most popular choices this year.
Participants ask friends, relatives and colleagues to sponsor their heads, with all money raised going to C-A-N-C-E-R, which assists cancer patients in northern Maine. Two participants, Brian Hamel (Uranus) and Catholic priest Father Jean-Paul Labrie (Mars) each raised more than $5000. Many people come to have their heads shaved and painted to honor, or in memory of, loved ones who have either died or are in treatment, or are themselves cancer survivors.
Displays by the University of Maine at Presque Isle Astronomy Club, the New Horizon’s Spacecraft Mission to Pluto, TAMC, and the organization C-A-N-C-E-R were set up for the participants and their families to enjoy while attending the event. A giant birthday cake for Pluto was enjoyed by all, and once again the Presque Isle and Caribou Pizza Huts generously donated pizzas for the event.
This year’s shaved heads included pastors from three area churches, Grant Memorial Methodist Church, Presque Isle Congregational Church and the Parish of the Precious Blood, which combines 10 Catholic churches in northern Maine. Four faculty members from the University of Maine at Presque Isle also shaved their heads. As has happened each year, about a third of the planet heads were children, including seven members of Mapleton Brownie Troop 1133.
Planet Head Day has steadily grown larger, said organizer Dr. Kevin McCartney (Pluto). Each year the money raised for C-A-N-C-E-R has more than doubled from the previous event.
Planet Head Day organizers, and in particular C-A-N-C-E-R chair Louise Calabrese, are already making plans for an even bigger event next February. Calabrese is taking a guess that next year’s event will bring in over $25,000.