Basalt High School students, faculty rally to support classmate in cancer battle | AspenTimes.com

Basalt High School students, faculty rally to support classmate in cancer battle

Anna Cunningham, right, smiles at an event in September 2017. The junior is battling a rare form of cancer that affects children and young adults.
Courtesy photo

HOW TO HELP

People can volunteer to get their head shaved and raise funds. People can also donate without getting their head shaved. Go to https://www.stbaldricks.org/events/mypage/13584/2019 and click on the general “donate” link or donations can be made on behalf of specific participants. A check can also be taken to the front office of Basalt High School or a person can come to the Feb. 27 event with cash or a check.

Funds will also be collected this Sunday at Sure Thing Burger in Willits Town Center from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

All funds raised go the St. Baldrick’s Foundation for cancer research.

Basalt High School junior Anna Cunningham is proving such an inspiration to her school that even students who don’t know her are rallying to raise funds for childhood cancer research in her honor.

Friends, teachers and administrators have organized an event called Basalt Bold & Bald schedule for Feb. 27. Participants will get their hair cut and heads shaved in an act of support for Anna, who is battling cancer. The shaving will occur at a school assembly.

The event was just announced Jan. 23 and already $17,450 was raised by noon Thursday. The awareness campaign is just heating up and organizers are reaching out to the community for help.

So far, 17 students, eight teachers, two counselors and two administrators have signed up to have their heads shaved. Among them is BHS Assistant Principal Megan Baiardo, who is willing to have hair that’s well below her shoulders chopped off for the cause.

“She is definitely the most loving person I know.” —classmate Lecsi Glenn

“My hair is my greatest vanity,” she acknowledged with a laugh.

She originally said she would get it cut short if fundraising reached $1,000. When it soared past $10,000 she agreed to be a “shavee.”

“I’m really happy to do this to support Anna and her family,” Baiardo said.

She also is proud that so many BHS students are stepping up to help. Baiardo works with students who have recently arrived in the U.S., many from Central America. The 15 students in her current class haven’t met Anna, but they heard about the fundraising effort, wanted to know more and then pitched in to help. They have raised $125.

The funds raised in Basalt Bold & Bald will go to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a national charity that funds childhood cancer research grants. Once more than $10,000 is raised, it can be directed toward specific research. In this case, the funds will go to research of Ewing sarcoma, a rare type of bone cancer that afflicts children and young adults.

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Anna has been battling Ewing sarcoma since March 2016. Her doctors and family thought her cancer was cured after initial treatment, but she learned one month later it had returned. She went through another round of intense chemotherapy, radiation and a bone marrow transplant at Children’s Hospital in Denver.

The cancer returned in mid-2017 and she later went through a third round of treatment. Unfortunately, there has been no cure. Anna learned last fall she doesn’t have long to live.

Anna’s dad, Red Cunningham, has agreed to have his head shaved. He wants Anna operating the clippers.

By all accounts, Anna is a remarkable young woman. Science teacher Brent Hayes has known Anna since her freshman year. He said her attitude through all the challenges of her treatments has been amazing. She’s never sought a break on her workload or studies.

“All she wants in her life is to be a regular high school student,” Hayes said.

Throughout the first 18 months after she learned she had cancer, she never stopped smiling or being happy, he said. As the battle has intensified, she has been “so strong” and upfront about what she is facing, he added.

It’s heartbreaking to see a person so young affected by cancer, Hayes said. He got the fundraiser started because he felt a need to honor Anna.

“Some of what I was hoping for was coming together as a school,” Hayes said.

The junior and senior classes know Anna best.

“This year has been tough. She hasn’t been around a lot,” Hayes said.

The emotions of the situation really haven’t hit the school yet, he said. The awareness built by Basalt Bold & Bald will help but there will still be a lot of pain from losing Anna.

“It’s going to be emotional,” Hayes said. “I’m going to be a wreck.”

BHS junior Lecsi Glenn has known Anna since middle school and became good friends in high school. She is helping raise funds and awareness for Basalt Bold & Bald.

She described Anna as smart, funny and very pretty.

“She is definitely the most loving person I know,” Glenn said.

She said her friend aspired to go to New York University to pursue a career in medicine. Anna dreamed of eventually getting married and having kids.

Despite having those dreams dashed, Anna has stayed positive, according to Glenn.

“This whole time her energy and her spirits have been so great,” Glenn said.

When asked what Anna thinks about the fundraising event in her honor, Glenn said, “She’s a little embarrassed.”

BHS senior Emily Northrup doesn’t know Anna personally but was inspired by her story. Even though prom is coming this spring and college in the fall, Northrup decided after giving it some thought that she would get her long hair shaved off.

“It took awhile,” she said. “It was definitely difficult to make the decision because I love my hair.”

The trick will be maintaining her femininity after losing her hair, she said.

“My grandma is like, ‘Oh, there are all these cute scarves you can wear,’” Northrup said.

What settled it for her was the realization she’s been very blessed to be healthy while growing up. She knows not all kids and young adults are that fortunate. Northrup said she wants to provide help to fund research of childhood cancer to make sure more kids have the chance to grow up healthy.

There are several ways the public can help with the fundraising. Foremost is volunteering to get a shaved head and raising funds for doing it.

“I would love to get people from outside the school,” Hayes said. “I’d love to have 100 people up there.”

He envisions five people going up onstage at a time with the crowd cheering as the shaving commences. The assembly will start at 9:30 a.m. Feb. 27 at the high school. People willing to be a “shavee” can contact Brent Hayes at bhayes@rfschools.com.

People can donate without getting their head shaved. Go to https://www.stbaldricks.org/events/mypage/13584/2019 and click on the general “donate” link or donations can be made on behalf of participants. A check can also be taken to the front office of Basalt High School or a person can come to the Feb. 27 event with cash or a check.

The school also can use volunteers for Basalt Bold & Bald, especially professional barbers. Contact Ann Burns at aburns@rfschools.com to help with the shearing.

Scott Picard, owner of Sure Thing Burger in Basalt, is also stepping up to help with fundraising. With the help of students and Alpine Bank, Sure Thing will host a fundraising effort from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10, at the restaurant in Willits Town Center.

Hundreds of yellow balloons will be placed around the neighborhood, fliers about Anna’s story will be passed out and St. Baldrick’s Foundation will supply yellow wristbands. Yellow is the color for sarcoma and bone cancer awareness.

Picard said once he heard about Anna and her family, he wanted to find a way to help.

“There won’t be a lot of dry eyes in Willits Town Center on Sunday,” he said.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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