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‘Bald’ statement: Student shaves head for research

Photo contributed by Liz Bender

Sophomore Liz Bender raises awareness for childhood cancer

By Olivia Braude, Senior Staff Writer

Miami University sophomore Liz Bender stared at a picture of a childhood cancer patient.

"Look at him," she said emphatically, turning her laptop to show her friend, sophomore Allison Kumnick.

Kumnick agreed with what Bender's expression said for her; the bald-headed little boy, posing for a picture with his dad, was a tragic sight.

Of the approximately 1,655,000 new cases of cancer the American Cancer Society predicts for 2014, more than 15,000 will involve children.

The lack of funding for childhood cancer, coupled with the sympathy she feels for kids like the young boy in the photo, are two of the reasons Bender has chosen to do something many college girls would not dream of doing - shave her head.

Through St. Baldrick's Foundation, an organization that both funds its own research for childhood cancer, as well as donates to other organizations focused on the treatment of cancer in young patients, Bender has raised more than $600 in donations since signing up to be a "shave" in August.

The venue of the original event kept changing, so Bender decided to set up her own time and date and have her head shaved in the presence of her friends, parents and younger sister. At 1 p.m. this Sunday in Peffer Park, Bender's Phi Mu sorority sister will take a razor to her more than 12 inches of hair.

Bender said people have been supportive and overly generous, encouraging her and donating to her donations page to help the cause. When Kumnick found out her friend was planning on shaving off her thick, brown hair, she was not the least bit surprised.

"It's just Liz," Kumnick said. "Even if she's never known a person with cancer a day in her life she would still do that, just because these people exist."

And Bender admits, neither she nor anyone particularly close to her has been affected by childhood cancer, but she is doing this to show that cancer patients, especially children, are not alone.

"I'm like most people" Kumnick said. "And it would take a personal connection [to someone with cancer], unlike Liz. Liz doesn't need a personal connection to help anyone."

To prove her point, Kumnick reminded Bend er of a time she was upset about a person they passed who was blind, how she sympathized with the stranger and felt as if the difficulty was her own.

"She just doesn't need to have someone that she cares about have an issue to make it hers," Kumnick said.

Because Bender has not been personally affected, she said one of her biggest fears is that people will think she is shaving her head for the wrong reasons.

"Are people going to question my motives, think this is an attention-grabbing scheme? Are people going to think I'm sick?" Bender asked, knowing already that it is likely people will assume she is ill.

But, if one childhood cancer patient can benefit, Bender said it will be worth the occasional stare.

In fact, she said the potential ogling from fellow Miami students does not phase her at all.

"People shouldn't care if I have hair or not. Why would that matter?"

Bender's head will be buzzed, almost completely bare, but her concern lies more with the winter weather than with the associated social risks.

"I am going to have to stock up on hats because I think it's going to be pretty cold," Bender said, laughing.

She has a lighthearted approach to the situation, an easy smile never leaving her face as she explained the importance of St. Baldrick's and fundraising for childhood cancer. Awareness is one of her main priorities, and Kumnick does not think Bender will have any problem getting noticed.

"Liz is the most well-known person that I have met," Kumnick said.

"That's not true," Liz interjected.

"No, she's the most famous 'not-famous' person," Kumnick insisted. "I've never met a person from Cincinnati, Ohio, that hasn't at least heard her name."

From across the table, Bender rolled her eyes and laughed as Kumnick recounted walking with her from their freshman dorm to the student center and having to make frequent stops along the way to talk with the many people Bender knew.

"I think you'll see who your true friends are," Kumnick said, the ones who are not embarrassed to walk with a girl who has shaved her head to make a statement for childhood cancer.

Her real friends, Bender said, ask a lot of questions about her going bald. Mostly, they want to know when they will be able to rub her smooth head.

"We should make it the new good luck thing," Kumnick joked.

Bender recognized she might need some good luck after she shaves her head, especially regarding people taking her seriously. Though, she argued, people undergoing chemotherapy who have no choice but to lose their hair should not be trivialized for it. In this way, Bender said, she is making a socio-political statement.

"This is something that mattered to me," Bender said. "I hope that conveys."

Sunday afternoon, after breakfast with her family, Bender will go to Peffer Park, sit down and watch locks of her hair fall to the grass beneath her.

When she looks back on the day, she said she hopes it will help her cope with the statistical probability of someone she knows one day being diagnosed with cancer.

"There are other ways to raise money, but I think this is going to be such a [growing] experience for me," Bender said.

A multitude of reasons exist for participating in an event like St. Baldrick's - from practicality to personal to social - but whatever the motive, she said the important thing is the cause: fundraising for research and treatment.