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Student to go bald for cancer research

LILY HOUGH | Monday, April 19, 2010

Elise Jordan has placed a $20,000 price over her head and is preparing to go bald to benefit cancer research.

Jordan will join more than 100 other Notre Dame students who have volunteered to have their heads shaved this week as a part of The Bald and the Beautiful fundraiser sponsored by the Sophomore Class Council.

Proceeds from the event, which raised over $26,500 last year which the Council hopes to double this year, will benefit the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a national non-profit that supports pediatric cancer research, Service Commission member Erin Pankiw, a sophomore, said.

“I’m so nervous. There have been times this week when I look in the mirror and realize I’m not going to have my hair,” Jordan said. “But I know that it’s going to be going to a better cause.”

Jordan made the decision to go bald after her friends in the Class Council who organized the event last year asked her to, she said.

“A majority of last year’s event was males, so this year we wanted to give more opportunities for girls to participate, but just because females are more attached to their hair, it’s a harder thing to ask them to do,” Pankiw said. “For someone to do what Elise is doing takes a tremendous amount of bravery and compassion and confidence. I couldn’t think of a more confident person than Elise.”

The daughter of a family physician in South Bend, Jordan said she has been “touched by cancer in a variety of ways ever since [she] was a little kid.”

When her mother shares her daughter’s story with her own chemotherapy patients, they are moved and find strength in it, Jordan said. Some are even planning to have their own head shaved with Jordan, whose audience, among supportive classmates, family, and friends, will include children from Memorial Hospital’s pediatric oncology ward.

Jordan said the faces of those children in the crowd that will get her through the emotional event.

“I’m hoping I can stay strong enough not to cry,” Jordan said. “If I do get emotional, it’s probably going to be more looking at the faces of cancer patients being there and knowing that I’m doing this for them.”

Jordan, whose hair runs about mid-way down her back, said she can’t remember her last dramatic haircut. While raising pledges from individuals, churches and small businesses in her hometown South Bend has been her main priority, Jordan said going bald will also be, for her and her peers, a lesson in vanity.

“For me, it’s just hair, but for a lot of people it’s not just hair. For a lot of people, it defines the way they view themselves,” Jordan said. “What I’m realizing is that at the end of the day, it is just hair, and you can live and do without it.”

As for her self-proclaimed lofty fundraising goal, Jordan said she thinks it’s “attainable.”

“I want people to know that you don’t need to shave your head to become involved with this cause. You can help in so many other ways. Make a little donation or just be there to show your support,” she said. “The sum of little things isn’t little. Everything makes a difference.”

And while she admits that her confidence will come in handy as she braves her new bald lifestyle, Jordan is adamant that it doesn’t require any super powers.

“I think anyone can do it,” Jordan said. “Honestly, anyone has what it takes.”

The event, which kicks off Wednesday night and will wind down Saturday afternoon, will include meals sponsored by Fiddler’s Hearth, as well as hairdressers from Salon Rouge offering hair extensions and opportunities for students to donate hair to Pantene Great Lengths, an organization similar to Locks for Love that uses donated hair to make wigs for cancer patients, Pankiw said.

Thirty players from Notre Dame’s football team have also signed up to have their heads shaved Wednesday night, followed by 25 Welsh Family residents who have signed up for hair extensions in support of Kelsey Thrasher, a Notre Dame student and cancer survivor.

“This is an event for everyone,” Pankiw said. “Everyone is going to be affected by cancer at some point in their lives, if they haven’t already experienced it. This is a tremendous issue that our generation needs to take responsibility to find a cure.”

For Jordan, whose date with the clippers is scheduled for Thursday night, the hair lost will be insignificant to the support gained.

“I think if it were easier it wouldn’t be worth it, because the sacrifice is what makes it special,” Jordan said.

And with a bald head, she plans to make her message loud and clear.

“This is what I want people to know, especially kids battling cancer,” Jordan said. “There’s so much more to what makes you a beautiful person than what is on top of your head.”