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Shaving for a cancer cure: Residents going bald for children's cancer research

Posted: Friday, March 18, 2011

Come Saturday night, three of the four members of the Koski-Knutson family will be bald -- again.

The Kenai family is participating in its second St. Baldrick's Foundation event and will be shaving their heads for childhood cancer research.

"I'm actually mostly bald so shaving my head is not a big sacrifice," said Fred Koski, an organizer of the event as well as leader for the Kenai River Rugby Football Club's team of St. Baldrick's shavees.

The real sacrifice for him will be cutting off his beard.

"I don't like how I look without a beard," he said. "Without facial hair I kind of have this baby face look and you can see my double chin a little better. I instantly gain 20 pounds."

But, he said, it's worth it to help raise funds to find cures for childhood cancer.

"It's a good cause and a lot of these kids who are suffering the disease, they don't have a choice, they lose their hair as a treatment," Koski said.

Koski's wife, Eva Knutson, and 8-year-old son, Kaegan, will also be shaving their heads this year, too. The only family member to shy away from the shave is Koski's 7-year-old daughter, Molly.

"She's afraid of the clippers," he said.

Started 11 years ago as a St. Patrick's Day celebration between co-workers in New York City, the St. Baldrick's Foundation is now a national non-profit and one of the largest private fundraisers for childhood cancer research. People around the world have raised pledges to shave their heads in solidarity with children who have cancer and typically lose their hair during treatment. The Foundation has donated more than $100 million to children's cancer research.

Marcia Jacobs, a volunteer and organizer of the event, said Soldotna's St. Baldrick's event this year is bigger than ever.

"We're having it at SoHi this year because we have outgrown the Sports Center thanks to the generosity of our community," she said.

She said the goal this year is to raise $30,000, and so far the Kenai Peninsula community has raised some $15,000. But Jacobs said she's hoping for more.

Last year, the local event garnered $45,000 for the St. Baldrick's Foundation.

"From 2007 to 2010, this event has raised more than $120,000," she said. "That's a huge amount for such a small community."

And this fundraising is crucial for children's cancer research.

"Most of the childhood cancer research being done in the U.S. today is funded by private donations and foundations, including St. Baldrick's," Jacobs said. "If there were no such foundations or individuals donating to childhood cancer research there would be virtually no childhood cancer research happening in our country."

The need for more research to battle childhood cancer is a cause that really hits Jacobs close to home.

"I lost my daughter to brain cancer at the age of 4 and even though she was a fighter and she was a hero she died because there was no cure for her disease," she said. "I don't want other children and other families to go through this. I don't want other parents to have empty arms."

Her crusade impacted Soldotna resident Billy Fallon, who has raised some $3,000 for St. Baldrick's this year alone. He said Jacobs asked if he would participate. This is his second year.

"I have not cut my hair since November. There's six months of growth. My wife and my co-workers are ready to see it go away," said the BP employee who works on the North Slope.

Saturday's event will have food from Davis and Sons Barbecue, children's games and a raffle, as well as the head shaving itself. So far 43 residents have signed up to get shaved.

"It's a lot of fun and the more community involvement we get the better the event is," Koski said.

And even though the majority of the Koski-Knutson family will be hairless after St. Baldrick's on Saturday, it's become somewhat of a tradition for them.

"It's hard to imagine not participating now," Knutson said about the emotional evening. "I plan on doing it every year."

The Kenai Peninsula St. Baldrick's Event will take place Saturday at 6 p.m. at Soldotna High School.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at brielle.schaeffer@peninsulaclarion.com.



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