Shaving my head for kids with cancer and its teachable moments

This is a guest post by Tanya Juarez-Sweeney, Child and Family Services Project Specialist at Children’s, who, along with her husband and son, shaved her head during the St. Baldrick’s Foundation head-shaving event, hosted at Children’s in Minneapolis, in March.

“Hello, my name is Tanya Juarez-Sweeney, and I’ll be your volunteer tour guide today. When I’m not volunteering at the art museum, I work at Children’s Hospital just a few blocks from here, and that is why I have this awesome new haircut. We had a celebration for some of our cancer patients, and they shaved my hair!”

This has become my standard greeting for the elementary school tours I lead at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts — one of Children’s community art partners. It has been the best part of my post-shave experience, as it offers many teachable moments. Shaving my hair has also been a lot of fun. Usually once a day I look into a mirror and sing “Nothing Compares to You” by Sinead O’Connor. I do it because I can. It’s a benefit of my new hairdo.

Going from having super long hair to being bald gets attention. It gives me the opportunity to brag about our organization and the amazing strength of the hematology oncology kids we serve. These opportunities are everywhere – at restaurants, gas stations, and in my neighborhood. With every encounter, there’s a chance to explain my new hairdo. These sharing moments are contagious and inspiring to those around me. I feel pride in paying it forward.

During the month following the hair-shaving event, I volunteered at my neighborhood elementary school. It was perfect timing. I was able to engage the students in discussions about the many ways we can give back to the community and help others. As part of a class art project, the children made Tzedakah boxes. We discussed how the boxes are used to collect money to give back to those in need, but there are other ways to help others, like shaving your head or raking a lawn. A few weeks later, I received a large envelope full of thank-you notes from the kids that included their ideas for their Tzedakah box money. Many were saving their money for Children’s.

The St. Baldrick’s Foundation event on March 29 raised nearly $20,000 for pediatric cancer research and was a celebration of the bravery and courage our patients have. Never have I felt such joy as I did that night. I’m sure I had a permanent smile plastered on my face the entire evening.

After leaving the hospital, I posted the following on Facebook:  “Shaved by 2 patients tonight, and feeling joyful. As I left the hospital a light rain started. What a feeling to feel rain on the top of your head! It was like little tickles or kisses from nature. I can’t help but feel that the honored kids who couldn’t be there tonight were giving me a little present.”

To read Tanya’s first post about why she shaved her head, click here.

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