Why One Doctor is Shaving Her Head

Editor’s note: Dr. Rachel Thienprayoon, a second-year pediatric oncologist at Children’s Medical Center, shares the special reasons why she is raising money and shaving her head March 31 at an event put on by the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a nonprofit, volunteer charity that funds research to find cures to childhood cancer.

Dr. Rachel ThienprayoonMy first experience with St. Baldrick’s was during my residency in general pediatrics at Children’s, about four years ago. A group of oncology fellows, including Dr. Martha Stegner, shaved their heads for St. Baldrick’s. I thought it was so amazing that “Dr. Martha” was willing to go bald for her patients! As I applied for my fellowship in pediatric oncology, I thought about St. Baldrick’s and whether someday, I would want to do the same.

During my first year as a pediatric oncology fellow, four of my beautiful, spirited and brilliant patients died of their cancer. I was very close to one patient in particular, a teenage girl named Micaela White. Micaela was diagnosed with cancer just before her 18th birthday. I remember how difficult our first conversation was about her diagnosis. I was amazed by her calm demeanor and poise. She maintained that tremendous grace throughout all phases of her treatment. As her cancer progressed, she had many complications, but still her spirit remained strong and courageous. One of my best days as a doctor was when I told her that she could go to her high school graduation. To be honest, we both cried!

Micaela lost her battle with cancer last fall. I think of her often, and I always remember the look of clear determination on her face during our first conversation. It reminds me of how determined we all must be in the fight against pediatric cancer. I believe that in my lifetime, we will be able to cure all children’s cancer. But the only way this will be possible is through continuing aggressive research efforts to find a cure.

The St. Baldrick’s Foundation is a unique organization in so many ways. They provide funding only to pediatric cancer research. They provide research grants both nationally and locally and they even support research projects led by fellows like me. Today, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation funds more in childhood cancer research grants than any organization other than the U.S. government.

I am very lucky to say that St. Baldrick’s is funding my current research project on hospice use in pediatric oncology patients. As I wrote my thank you note to St. Baldrick’s donors and participants, I realized how deeply touched I am by those who give their time and energy in the fight against kids cancer. I understand why Dr. Stegner and so many of our colleagues volunteer in the St. Baldrick’s event each year. I needed to participate too!

I feel like my role in this event is easy: I just show up and get a haircut. It is our sponsors and donors who are the critical link in this event. So many lives have been touched by pediatric cancer, and I am so grateful to each donor who is willing to support our patients in the fight for a cure. I hope that the determination Micaela inspired in me will be shared with readers of this article, and they might consider donating to St. Baldrick’s or attending the event. It is only by working together that we will achieve our goal of curing all children affected by cancer.

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