Jeanne Sager | Democrat
LIBERTY STUDENTS WATCH as popular middle school teacher Kort Wheeler gets the last of his hair shaved by Tammy Pilny at Creative Techniques Friday night.
Shaving Heads, Saving Lives For
By Jeanne Sager
LIBERTY April 6, 2007 It’s the stuff of nightmares.
Friday night, it made Fay Cerullo’s dreams come true.
The mom of a childhood cancer survivor, Cerullo spent months organizing Friday night’s St. Baldrick’s shaving event in Liberty to fight the disease that keep moms like her awake.
She gave it a slogan: “Give us Liberty from childhood cancer.”
She knew her son Ryan would shave his head after losing his hair from the treatments for Hodgkin’s disease a year and a half ago.
So would her husband, Mike.
She hoped for a few others. She set a goal of $1,000.
Then the calls started coming. Kids. Teachers. Politicians.
They wanted to shave. They wanted to kick some cancer butt.
Almost 40 people joined the crowd at Creative Techniques Hair Salon and plopped down in front of the three stylists to have their hair buzzed down to its roots.
At last count they’ve taken Cerullo’s $1,000 goal and upped the ante by $13,000.
Ryan lost his locks.
So did Nick Mootz, a Kenoza Lake teenager who has been battling the same disease as Ryan, and John Ognibene, a Liberty teen who had a brain tumor at 15.
Both boys climbed in the chair after having lost their hair once before under less auspicious circumstances.
They were joined by Joey Cuttita whose sister Rebecca is in remission after treatment for Ewing’s sarcoma.
“It’s not just my St. Baldrick’s,” Ryan said. “It’s John Ognibene’s and Nick Mootz’s and the Cuttitas’.”
The kids put a face on a disease that strikes 160,000 children each year.
Liberty High science teacher Kevin Ferguson had a job funded by grants like those doled out by the St. Baldrick’s Foundation doing cancer research in Colorado.
When he moved to Liberty, he was struck by the high number of children affected by cancer in the area.
He gave his hair Friday night something small he could do.
It wasn’t a hard decision for him, he said.
Others struggled over the question to shave or not to shave.
Amanda Agapito’s shoulder length locks were shorn by Grahamsville stylist Tammy Poppo Friday evening in a third chair set up in the middle of Creative Techniques just for the event.
The 15-year-old said she didn’t make up her mind until Tuesday.
“I was afraid people were gonna make fun of me,” she said shyly.
When she rose from the chair, the standing room only crowd cheered.
Agapito closed her eyes and slowly ran her hand over the stubble atop her head.
She nodded then smiled.
“It’s just hair,” Ognibene said with a grin. “It’ll grow out.”
Some of that hair was sent on to Locks of Love, a non-profit that fashions wigs for children who lose their hair.
Long hair that didn’t meet the Locks requirements was sent on to a doll maker who will be donating to St. Baldrick’s in exchange for the tresses.
Each part was a proactive move in the fight against children’s cancer, Fay Cerullo said.
“All the time my son was sick, I had to react, had to deal with the diagnosis, deal with the treatment,” she said. “This is moving in a positive direction.”
The excitement allowed her for two hours to put aside the horrifying thought that everything that was happening was because her son had been diagnosed with cancer.
“I had to put that aside and celebrate life this time,” she said.
Hugging the mom of another cancer survivor, the two broke out in tears.
“We said, this time, the tears are for life,” Fay noted. “We’re moving forward.”
Organizing this event brought out the best in Liberty, and it prompted phone calls from five different moms who have gone through the diagnosis of a child with cancer.
“We have this bond that’s not going to go away,” Fay said. “But that’s such a powerful result, and it touched me greatly.”
The Cerullos were touched by the outpouring the numbers of people and dollars for a cause so close to their hearts.
In just one day, family friend Adam Ramirez raised more than $1,000 at Ulster Correctional Facility where he works.
He decided Friday morning that he should shave, and he started stumping for pledges. A woman he barely knew hastily wrote out a check for $250.
“These were my friends, my neighbors, my politicians, my law enforcement,” Cerullo said. “All together, all functioning as a unit to make something really good happen.”
There’s still time to add to their efforts.
The Creative Techniques event will remain available on www.stbaldricks.org for people to make donations, and a $1,500 Best of Sullivan County basket put together by the Sullivan County Visitors Association with donations from members of the local tourism industry will be raffled off in the coming months.
For information or to help plan for next year’s event, call Fay Cerullo at 292-2085.