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St. John’s students go to lengths to benefit cancer research

Veronica Thompson squeezes her eyes shut as a stylist shaves her head at a St. John's University cancer benefit last Thursday. Photo by Karen Frantz
TimesLedger Newspapers

Cara Weidinger, 18, stood in a crowd gathering in a St. John’s University break room, smiling nervously. She saw a friend and lit up as the two embraced.

“It’s going to be gone!” she exclaimed to her friend.

“Are you taking it all off?” the friend asked.

No, Cara said, her long curly hair swaying back and forth as she shook her head. Just the ponytail.

Cara was one of many students and university employees who participated in St. John’s fourth annual benefit for children with cancer last Thursday. She and about 70 other people were called up to a stage in the D’Angelo Center living room at the university, at 80-00 Utopia Pkwy., to have their hair cut short — or completely shaved off — in front of an audience to help the cause.

The event raised more than $35,000 and counting for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, an organization that funds childhood cancer research. In addition, the hair from 22 participants was donated to Locks of Love, which makes wigs for cancer patients.

The event also honored a 5-year-old girl, Gabrielle Brancaccio, who was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in her eye when she was only 2 months old. She has been cancer free for four years with the help of St. Baldrick’s research, her mother, Dana Brancaccio, told the crowd.

Brancaccio’s voice trembled when she described her daughter’s struggle.

“It has taken time to heal and finally be able to share our story,” she said. “It makes our family feel complete that we have gone through this full circle and that Gabrielle is healthy, and this event is so energizing and helps us feel that we have come to the other side.”

The first round of donors then stepped onto the stage, where several barbers and stylists waited with scissors and electric razors.

Veronica Thompson, 19, was one of the first round of students to shave her head. She squeezed her eyes shut as the razor made its first sweep, her curly auburn hair falling away into her stylist’s hand. Once all her hair was gone, she stood and bowed to a cheering crowd.

She told the TimesLedger Newspapers she decided to donate her hair after reading about a woman in the Middle East who shaved her head in support of women’s rights. She said the woman described how it was such a huge part of her identity to have hair.

“That really struck a chord with me,” Veronica said. “I was thinking what a great gift it is to give to someone else who doesn’t have hair.”

She said she had never shaved her head before.

“It’s really squishy!” she said cheerfully when asked how it felt.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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