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Shaving their heads to help other people

The new lead volunteer of a group fighting children's cancer has vowed to raise $150,000 this year for life-saving research.

Cheyra Bell, who has taken over as the volunteer chairwoman of the Bermuda event organising committee at St Baldrick's and who had her head shaved in 2018 to raise cash, said it had been “the most rewarding experience I've had in my life”.

Ms Bell said she was pleased by the high number of children who had signed up for this year's event.

She added: “I'm happy with the high number of young people who registered. I feel like their parents will see a huge change in them.

“It's enlightening. People don't understand — I didn't. A lot of things change. It changes your perspective on life.

“To cut off your hair for an individual you don't know is such a genuine, authentic decision.”

Among the young volunteers is Valentino Salvador, 3, who was born with a full head of hair and now has a ponytail down to the middle of his back.

Ashleigh Salvador, his mother, said: “It's going to be bittersweet, but we're definitely ready for the change.”

Samiyah Simons, 9, said she would shave her head with her aunt, Renée Simons, a child psychologist at Edgewood Paediatrics.

She added: “We're going together. I thought it was a cool idea to shave my head and help other people.”

Nicole Simons, her mother, said that Samiyah's aunt saw the effects of child cancer through her work with youngsters.

She was also inspired by a schoolmate at Somersfield Academy, Brennan Watkins, who battled a rare form of leukaemia as a child.

Somaj Scott, a 9-year-old Purvis Primary School pupil, said her mother and aunt had faced cancer.

The young PHC footballer added her teachers had said she was “brave and said they were very proud”.

Mandy Scott, her mother, explained she had cancer diagnosed when she was “18 years old and in my prime”.

She added: “Nobody said the word ‘cancer'. I only found out after my surgery, when they said they had removed the cancer.”

Ms Scott was operated on for a teratoma, a form of tumour, and has been in remission since.

Richelle Virgil, one of this year's adult volunteers, said her daughter N'Keema Virgil was 12 when her brain cancer was diagnosed in 2013.

She said: “Since then, we've lost two childhood friends of my daughter's. For my daughter, there was no warning whatsoever. We thought that she had the flu.

“She's a brave girl — she's 19 now and doing well, although she has a new condition, amplified musculoskeletal pain, and she still has balance issues. But she has been cancer-free for seven years as of January 1.”

Ms Virgil said doctor Stephen West had saved her daughter's life.

She added: “If it wasn't for his speedy decisions, my child probably would not be here.”

Ms Virgil said her daughter had befriended Ayverie Caster, a child with brain cancer who became “a poster child in her native Canada”.

She added: “She lost Ayverie last year, but we keep pressing on. We're just hoping that one day they find a cure. It's a hard road for anyone to go on, let alone children.”

Ms Virgil said her head shaving would also honour 15-year-old Cymai Weller, who lost her battle to cancer in January 2018.

She added: “There is a rise in childhood cancer in Bermuda. Since my daughter was diagnosed, there have been other children and younger than her.

“There are a lot of children coming up with it, and we would like to see that cease. But that can't happen if we do not have funds to do the research.”

Ms Virgil added: “I've been given a lot of encouragement. It's hair — it grows back — but it's hair that is going to make a significant change because people are coming out for the cause.”

This year's St Baldrick's event will be held at the Docksider bar on Front Street at 6pm on March 13.

About 100 people have already volunteered to have their heads shaved.

Top fundraisers: Cheyra Bell, chairwoman of the St Baldrick's Foundation Bermuda, with 9-year-old “shavee” Somaj Scott(Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published March 03, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated March 03, 2020 at 1:31 pm)

Shaving their heads to help other people

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