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March 30, 2015

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Vanity, schmanity; teacher loses locks to fight cancer at St. Baldrick’s fundraiser


Sam Morris

Lied Middle School teacher Wendy Gelbart poses for a photo with students Tanner Amato, left, and Clay Shurtleff, both cancer survivors, after getting her head shaved during a benefit for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation Saturday, March 2, 2013.

St. Baldrick's Foundation Fundraiser

Lied Middle School teacher Wendy Gelbart prepares to go under the clippers during a benefit for the St. Baldrick's Foundation Saturday, March 2, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Standing inside Vinyl at the Hard Rock Hotel Saturday, Wendy Gelbart anxiously awaits her appointment.

Surrounded by friends and family, she repeatedly checks the time on her phone and receives hugs from people wishing her luck. Her curly amber hair hangs just below her chin, the same length it has been for about three years.

Soon all of it will be gone.

Gelbart is one of about 45 people who are shaving their heads at the St. Baldrick Foundation’s fundraiser for childhood cancer research.

For her, going bald is just a small sacrifice to make for a larger cause. The Lied Middle School teacher is doing this for two children at her school who overcame cancer, for her cousin who was diagnosed with breast cancer, and for future diagnosed children.

“It’s in honor of them,” Gelbart said. “Last year my cousin -- the closest thing I have to a sister -- underwent surgery for breast cancer, and that’s what I think brought it home.”

Gelbart was one of only about eight women willing to shave their heads at the event. So far this year only about 4,700 women out of 28,000 total participants have shaved their head, according to St. Baldrick’s website.

Event coordinator Lola Rose said fewer women participate because being bald is looked at differently for women than it is for men.

“It’s a little more taboo for women to have a bald head,” said Rose, who raised $5,000 to shave her head. “But there is a courage it takes to be part of this, and I think it is catching on.”

Gelbart has known about St. Baldrick’s for three years -- and her husband shaves his head all the time -- but she wasn’t ready to part with her hair until this year. She was inspired by her two students, Clay Shurtleff and Tanner Amato, who overcame leukemia and non-Hodgkins lymphoma, respectively.

“They’re amazing kids, who show up every day and put their all into school,” Gelbart said.

Still, it was a difficult decision. She worried about what people might think or say, and also how her students would react. She said the hardest part has been to remember she won’t just be bald for one day, but possibly months.

“It’s a little scary to have to show up to middle school on Monday,” Gelbart said. “I wonder when I go out now…Will people think I’m sick? But I know it all for a good cause.”

Gelbart found her courage in the support her friends, family and students have provided. She has also used it to educate students about cancer and what victims go through. At Lied, they hosted a “Hat Day” where students donated a dollar for her cause to wear a hat.

Her 13-year-old daughter Kate also made a video in support of her mom.

“She’s been a really big inspiration because I could never do something like this,” Kate Gelbart said. “I wouldn’t have the guts.”

But what has meant the most to her is having both Shurtleff and Amato come in support. They were why she decided to do go bald in the first place.

When it came time for her turn under, both students got to shave a part. She grinned, even as she watched her curly locks fall to the ground until none remained.

When it was over, her head had the texture of sandpaper. Gelbart beamed with pride as she felt her new hairdo and vowed to return next year -- with even more money to go bald again.

“It felt great up there, especially with (Shurtleff and Amato) there,” Gelbart said. “My head actually feels a little tingly.”

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