Seventh-grade science teacher John Braun donned a green mohawk and bellowed on bagpipes as he led a group of students into a packed Northport-East Northport Middle School auditorium. At the district’s St. Baldrick’s Day event, March 8, around 39 students and staff volunteered their time and lined up to shave their heads in support of childhood cancer research.
Since 2007, the middle school has raised nearly $215,000 and its team, The Bald Tigers, has raised more than $14,000 this year.
“I thought it was going to run its course, maybe be a year or two, but it has gotten bigger and bigger every year,” Braun said. “The kids get really excited to get involved and be a part of it.”
When Braun was in middle school, his best friend’s older brother died of cancer. He said that story is why he became involved with St. Baldrick’s.
Over the years, the district has been impacted by childhood cancer, and for this year’s shave they honored a number of individuals including Caleb Paquet, who died in August 2017 after a battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and Danielle DeSimone, a former student who at 19 was diagnosed with leukemia.
DeSimone couldn’t be at the event but sent a video thanking the crowd for participating in the event and for continuing to raise awareness for childhood cancer research.
The crowd listened to her story of how one week she was surfing with her friends, and the next week she was in a hospital bed where she stayed for five months receiving treatment. After seven rounds of chemotherapy she was informed that she was a candidate for a bone marrow transplant. She received a transplant from a person in Germany and went on to say one day she hopes to meet them.
“I’m still in recovery — it’s tough and a really slow process but one thing that has been consistent throughout everything has been the support of the Northport-East Northport community,” DeSimone said. “Every well-wish just reminds me every single day to keep going and that I have a full community of people behind just rooting for me and pushing me to get to my goal of getting better.”
Nicole Paquet, the mother of Caleb, also spoke at the event about her personal experiences.
She said her son, up until he received news of his diagnosis, was very much like Danielle, a robust, healthy person who was an avid outdoorsman and enjoyed long distance walks.
“You are not just shaving your head, wearing a T-shirt and getting a green hair extension, you are a part of a much bigger mission today,” she said.
Caleb’s mother added many research hospitals are able to receive grants to help them come up with better treatments for cancer thanks to the money raised from St. Baldrick’s events.
“Many children’s lives will be saved because of this research and treatment — I have hope that more types of treatment will be developed in the years to come,” Paquet said. “I also have a grand hope that there will be a cure for cancer in my lifetime.”
This year’s St. Baldrick’s event also honored Charlotte Stewart, a current middle school student who is battling cancer. When she was called up on stage to participate in the head-shave she received a loud ovation from the packed crowd.
Braun couldn’t have been happier with this year’s turnout.
“The community is great — I grew up here, I went to school here, I still live here — they’ve always been super supportive of any event we do, and I couldn’t imagine doing this