Shaving in solidarity

People across Perth have joined the efforts to raise money for the Leukaemia Foundation’s World’s Greatest Shave by shaving their hair and sharing their stories.

Leah Ayres before shaving her head at Curtin University’s World’s Greatest Shave event. Photo by Xavier Hazard

Social work student Leah Ayres shaved today at Curtin University, after her friend was diagnosed with leukaemia earlier this year.

“He was on a Leaver’s trip and he was rushed to hospital,” she said.

“They told him he was in the late stages of leukaemia and they had to begin chemotherapy right away.”

“When I told my friend [I was shaving] he said it meant a lot to him knowing that these things are happening, that people care.”

Ms Ayres said cancer has closely affected her from a young age.

“Growing up, cancer was just something that always surrounded me,” she said

Leah Ayres participating in the World’s Greatest Shave. Photo by Xavier Hazard

“I lost my grandma and my grandad to cancer.

“There’s that really helpless feeling that you have.”

Ms Ayres said she has raised over $800 and hopes to increase that number before the opportunity to donate closes at the end of March.

“It’s just a matter of being brave and realising, even if you get a couple of funny looks, it’s for such a good cause and it’s nothing permanent.”

Hairdresser Diana Smith runs a salon in Coogee and helped shave people’s heads at the event.

She said volunteering for the World’s Greatest Shave was very important for her, personally.

“My son was diagnosed with leukaemia when he was 11 in 2011,” Ms Smith said.

“He went through treatment for three and a half years and came off treatment for five months.

“Unfortunately, he relapsed in 2015 and in May 2016 he had a bone marrow transplant.”

Ms Smith said her daughter was a perfect match so she donated her bone marrow.

“This May he will be two years post-transplant and he’s doing amazing.”

Diana Smith shaves Wayne Zaccheus’ hair. Photo by Xavier Hazard

Ms Smith said her son was also participating in the World’s Greatest Shave this year.

“He’s shaving his head today at school,” she said.

“One of his friends unfortunately was diagnosed a week ago with cancer, so they are doing a big fundraiser at school and having a sausage sizzle.

“My son has been fundraising and he’s raised $4500 for the Leukaemia Foundation.”

Ms Smith said the Leukaemia Foundation supported them throughout the experience and she gives back wherever she can.

Ridley Bergeron also participated in the World’s Greatest Shave, which began in 1998.

“My nan is actually suffering from leukaemia but she’s too old to go through treatment,” they said.

“So, our family has some personal experience dealing with that and it would be nice to help other families deal with it a bit easier.”

They said they participated to raise awareness for leukaemia.

Ridley Bergeron shaved their head for the Leukaemia Foundation’s World’s Greatest Shave. Photo by Xavier Hazard

“Leukaemia is one of those cancers that just hits people no matter what their age is,” they said.

“It’s the children’s cancer because it drastically affects people of different ages as opposed to other cancers, which hit when you’re old.

“It can just appear at any time so people do need to be aware of it.”

Engineering student Wayne Zaccheus said he was shocked to learn 35 people are diagnosed with blood cancer every day.

“I thought that was a staggering number and the fact that there’s not much awareness of it made me want to do it and support the cause that does raise awareness,” he said.

Mr Zaccheus raised over $1600 for the Leukaemia Foundation.

“Judging by how this year went I think I’ll set a more ambitious target next year and try and hit that.”

Training Coordinator Kristen Barker organised an office afternoon tea to raise money after her then 10-year-old cousin, Hunter, was diagnosed at the end of last year.

“As a way of showing support to him and my family I wanted to do something this year for the World’s Greatest Shave,” Ms Barker said.

“Cancer diagnosis just kind of rocks everything and flips it upside down, and watching from the other side of the country you feel a bit helpless.

“They’re from regional New South Wales so they had to move to Melbourne for a couple of months.”

Ms Barker said the Leukaemia Foundation helped her family find accommodation whilst Hunter went through chemotherapy and supporting the World’s Greatest Shave was a ‘no-brainer’.

“Cancer doesn’t just affect the person that’s diagnosed, it affects so many other people,” she said.

“Even though I’m not directly involved with a lot of his treatments or experience, seeing the effect it has on our broader family and knowing that the community around them and all across Australia actually cares enough to do something about it, that in itself is a huge emotional support, let alone the material support of the money to help in that situation.”

She said community events like the World’s Greatest Shave make dealing with cancer a less isolating experience for patients and their families.

“Seeing an outpouring of support from the community is really heartwarming.”

The Western Independent asked volunteers and participants why they got involved with the World’s Greatest Shave.