Indiana mom Allison Smith, who shaved in honor of her son Jackson, a brain tumor survivor. Photo by Connor Sumner.
When Maisy Yeager’s son, Zarek, was just 8 years old, he was diagnosed with acute lymphoid leukemia. “It’s horrible, hearing the words ‘Your kid has cancer,’” Yaeger, a pharmaceutical biochemist from Massachusetts, told Yahoo Health. “It’s unimaginable, the dread of loss you feel.”
Luckily, Zarek is now cancer-free, making it through years of draining surgeries and steroid treatments that turned the family’s world upside down. But countless other children — nearly 2,000 a year, according to statistics from the National Cancer Institute — are not so lucky. It’s why Yeager and 45 other mothers from around the U.S. and Canada convened in Boston on Sunday to have their heads shaved bald in a public ceremony for the fifth annual 46 Mommas event — so-named to symbolize that each weekday of the year, 46 mothers in the U.S. are told that their child has cancer. This year, through pledged donations, the moms raised more than $200,000 for the national St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which fundraises for pediatric cancer research, adding to the $1.5 million the event has pulled in over the course of five years. After all, Yeager noted, “My kid survived because of research.”
The freshly bald mothers. Photo by Connor Sumner.
St. Baldrick’s Foundation CEO Kathleen Ruddy praised the mothers in a press announcement about the event. “We are so humbled by the outstanding commitment and fundraising accomplishments of all 46 Mommas team members,” she said. “Since the team’s inception in 2010, these brave women have provided hope to so many across the nation and around the world. We are so thankful for their incredible efforts and unwavering support of the St. Baldrick’s mission to conquer childhood cancers.”
The annual event, which is held in a different city every year (San Antonio in 2013 and Hollywood. Calif., in 2012), is a way for moms of children with cancer in various stages of treatment to raise money and also build awareness. They spread the word about facts that people tend to not know about until they have to — that less than 4 percent of all cancer research in this country goes toward pediatric cancers, for example, and that treatments for children tend to last much longer than they do for adults. But the 46 Mommas event is also a way for the parents involved to find strength in one another.
Photo by Connor Sumner.
“My first shave was awesome,” Yeager, a co-organizer this year, recalled. “It was emotional. Every mom there is a cancer mom, so you can talk, and everyone will understand what you’re talking about. It’s so fun and so sad at the same time, because we all get it. And some have suffered way more than others — some are what we call ‘angel moms.’ It’s not a great description, but it’s the best one out there.” Angel moms who took part this year included Annemarie Kulikowski, whose daughter Elizabeth died of a rare DIPG brain tumor at the age of 3, and Bonny Neufeld, whose son Matthew died at the age of 10 of an unnamed brain tumor.
“It’s devastating,” the event’s co-organizer, Courtney Moore of Texas, told Yahoo Health about getting to know the mothers of children who have died. “I admire the moms who can still come to something like this and do something positive with their grief, as well as keep on fighting for others. It’s incredibly inspiring for all of us.”
Maisy Yaeger and her daughter, Ana, who also shaved her head not that long ago. Photo by Connor Sumner.
This year Moore honored her daughter Georgia, 14, who survived acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2012 after two and a half grueling years of treatment. “It was a life-changing moment,” Moore recalled about hearing her daughter’s diagnosis, “second only to that of becoming a mother in the first place.” But being involved with the 46 Mommas has been life-altering, too. “We’re all these women from all across the country, as different as can be,” she said. “But it’s a sisterhood almost immediately. Once you do this crazy, powerful thing together, it’s like, boom, we’re sisters.”