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Celebrating a decade of going Bald for Bucks: Austin’s story

Celebrating a decade of going Bald for Bucks: Austin’s story

It’s not every day you meet someone who’s willing to shave their head completely bald for cancer research, but for high-school junior Austin Russell, it’s tradition. Every year for the past decade, Austin has had his hair buzzed off and raised critical funds for Bald for Bucks. This year marked his 10th anniversary, and he commemorated the milestone with a moment that brought his journey full circle.

Austin’s Bald for Bucks journey started in second grade. His family had moved back to the United States from Germany to be closer to Austin’s grandfather, Steven, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare blood disease. Austin and his grandfather were always close, and at just seven years old, Austin sought out a way to show his support. That’s when he heard that his school, Lake Shore, was hosting a Bald for Bucks event. There was no question in his mind that he wanted to participate in honor of his grandfather.

The first year felt intimidating — after all, the event was held at the high school, and Austin was one of the youngest participants. The space was packed and full of people who wanted to talk to him about his why. He remembers speaking with the media and meeting DJ Anthony, an on-air radio personality and proud supporter of Bald for Bucks. Right before Austin got his head shaved, he remembers feeling a pang of worry. What would his friends think?

Flash forward ten years, and Austin realizes he had nothing to be concerned about.

Wear a hat if you're worried about people looking at you differently. Shave your head for a good cause. You're raising money; you're spreading awareness. There’s no downside.

Austin Russell

Austin now has a decade of experience under his belt when it comes to having his head shaved. Some of his favorite memories are of watching the tiniest participants get their hair cut for the cause or of seeing teachers dress up in costumes to commemorate the occasion. Lake Shore’s Bald for Bucks event just seemed to grow bigger and more exciting every year.

In recent years, the pandemic has changed how Austin has participated in Bald for Bucks — bringing the event online to a virtual space — but it has not changed his why. It all comes back to his grandfather, who, after two successful bone marrow transplants, continues to overcome obstacles and manage his cancer. That includes supporting Austin’s yearly effort to raise money for Bald for Bucks.

“My grandpa’s been a big part of my life. It’s hard to put into words, but he taught me how to shave and he’d drop anything if I needed help,” Austin says. “He means a lot to me.”

In that full-circle moment mentioned earlier, Austin’s grandfather even wielded the razor for this year’s virtual event through Lake Shore. As it turned out, the shaving equipment his grandfather had on hand proved to be too dull to get through Austin’s hair. They shared a laughed, and then Austin hit up Super Cuts. Luckily, that didn’t discourage Austin, who says he will still go bald in 2023 for his senior year.

Thank you to Austin for ten great years!

Go Bald for Bucks today!

Celebrating a decade of going Bald for Bucks: Austin’s story

Celebrating a decade of going Bald for Bucks: Austin’s story

It’s not every day you meet someone who’s willing to shave their head completely bald for cancer research, but for high-school junior Austin Russell, it’s tradition. Every year for the past decade, Austin has had his hair buzzed off and raised critical funds for Bald for Bucks. This year marked his 10th anniversary, and he commemorated the milestone with a moment that brought his journey full circle.

Austin’s Bald for Bucks journey started in second grade. His family had moved back to the United States from Germany to be closer to Austin’s grandfather, Steven, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare blood disease. Austin and his grandfather were always close, and at just seven years old, Austin sought out a way to show his support. That’s when he heard that his school, Lake Shore, was hosting a Bald for Bucks event. There was no question in his mind that he wanted to participate in honor of his grandfather.

The first year felt intimidating — after all, the event was held at the high school, and Austin was one of the youngest participants. The space was packed and full of people who wanted to talk to him about his why. He remembers speaking with the media and meeting DJ Anthony, an on-air radio personality and proud supporter of Bald for Bucks. Right before Austin got his head shaved, he remembers feeling a pang of worry. What would his friends think?

Flash forward ten years, and Austin realizes he had nothing to be concerned about.

Wear a hat if you're worried about people looking at you differently. Shave your head for a good cause. You're raising money; you're spreading awareness. There’s no downside.

Austin Russell

Austin now has a decade of experience under his belt when it comes to having his head shaved. Some of his favorite memories are of watching the tiniest participants get their hair cut for the cause or of seeing teachers dress up in costumes to commemorate the occasion. Lake Shore’s Bald for Bucks event just seemed to grow bigger and more exciting every year.

In recent years, the pandemic has changed how Austin has participated in Bald for Bucks — bringing the event online to a virtual space — but it has not changed his why. It all comes back to his grandfather, who, after two successful bone marrow transplants, continues to overcome obstacles and manage his cancer. That includes supporting Austin’s yearly effort to raise money for Bald for Bucks.

“My grandpa’s been a big part of my life. It’s hard to put into words, but he taught me how to shave and he’d drop anything if I needed help,” Austin says. “He means a lot to me.”

In that full-circle moment mentioned earlier, Austin’s grandfather even wielded the razor for this year’s virtual event through Lake Shore. As it turned out, the shaving equipment his grandfather had on hand proved to be too dull to get through Austin’s hair. They shared a laughed, and then Austin hit up Super Cuts. Luckily, that didn’t discourage Austin, who says he will still go bald in 2023 for his senior year.

Thank you to Austin for ten great years!

Go Bald for Bucks today!

Tony George’s Hope for the Future

When you hear the words “Bald for Bucks”, you probably think about shaving or cutting your hair, or the difference you’ll make for cancer patients, but do you know how this life-changing movement started? 

Bald for Bucks was born out of love between a brother and sister.

Tony George was a history teacher at Lake Shore High School when his sister Cathleen was diagnosed with cancer. Throughout her difficult battle, she lost her hair. Tony felt his sister’s distress and promised her he would go bald and stay bald until her hair grew back.

 

“I was not going to sit back and watch her go through this alone. I knew I had to do something to help."

Tony George

When initially Tony felt helpless, he realized how much comfort it brought his sister after going Bald. It felt like the only way to connect and share his sister’s pain and he hopes it connects many other cancer patients with their loved ones. 

When Cathleen lost her battle with cancer, Tony’s devotion to ending cancer continued and grew into Bald for Bucks. Tony’s students, colleagues and school community joined the mission. It all started with Tony wanting to connect with his sister. “It’s not about me. It never was about me. In order for people to be motivated to do this. It can’t be about me. It’s about the person you care about, or you yourself. The more Bald for Bucks can become personal for everyone the better it is.”

There have been many impactful moments throughout the years, but some of Tony’s favorites are the ones that greatly exhibit selflessness. “There was the time a female student Tehya Huff was participating, and her mother was so inspired she too [went Bald.]  Another year, a woman battling cancer came to watch all three of her children participate.  Unfortunately, she lost her battle, but I’d like to think that day is a memory they cherish.”

Tony shares his stories to encourage anyone who wants to make a difference to start today – even if it starts with registering. It’s the first important step in changing lives.  

“My ultimate dream is to have all of Western New York be Bald for a spring. So when cancer patients walk out of Roswell, you can’t tell who’s the cancer patient and who’s not,” said Tony.

Bald for Bucks provides cancer patients with a better quality of life by funding innovative research and patient care programs. “I sacrifice my looks, good or not, to help identify with people who are struggling. It’s a way to show we can take care of each other.”

Bald is not only about making an impact – it’s about showing your loved ones you care. Tony was the first to do it, but he will not be the last.

“My job, as a teacher was not just teaching History but also creating young adults who contribute to society. Bald for Bucks was kind of an extension of my job.”

Tony’s lasting hope for Bald for Bucks is that it continues to bring comfort to those fighting cancer in our community.

If you want to be more like Tony, you can be. It starts with you and can grow into so much more. Pick a change and make it.

 

Meet Andre the Warrior

Warrior [wawr-ee-er] noun: a person who shows or has shown great vigor or courage. 

Synonyms include fighter, soldier and Andre.

There’s never been a person more deserving of their name than Andre Sanders.

Not only does his name literally mean warrior, but he is one, right down to his core.

At 4 years old, he’s pure dynamite. When Andre walks into the room, you know he’s there. While he stands at only 3 feet, 10 inches tall, he packs a punch with a larger-than-life personality that lights up any room.

“He loves out loud,” said his dad, Rich Sanders. “He’s very thoughtful and very kind. He always asks, ‘So, how was your day?’ He has a conversation like an adult. I don’t even ask my wife these questions sometimes! But he’s a constant reminder to me to do certain things.”

Despite being diagnosed with a Wilms tumor, Andre approaches his treatment the same way he approaches everything else in life – with determination, the drive to overcome and all the love in the world.

Andre's Diagnosis

Rich and his wife, Alexandra, decided that once Andre was old enough (he’s the youngest of two), the family would move to Florida, which is where Rich grew up. After many trips down south, and with both Andre and brother Demeris John (DJ) loving Florida living, the family decided to make it permanent.

They started getting everything in order. For four months, Rich went back and forth between Buffalo and Florida; everything seemed to be working out. 

Then came the big move – August 4, 2019. The family drove down to Florida and settled in. They had job offers and a good living situation, and were adjusting well to their new life. 

But Hurricane Dorian, which was projected to hit the neighboring town on September 3, 2019, had other plans.

Because Rich lived through Hurricane Andrew in 1992, he was determined to get his family away from the powerful storm. So they evacuated to Atlanta.

As a distraction, the family visited the University of Georgia to see the football stadium. Rich, Andre and DJ are all sports fans, so it’s something the Sanders family likes to do together. During their visit, Andre began to feel sick. Rich and Alexandra didn’t think too much of it because Rich and DJ had been sick a few days prior with flu-like symptoms.

The first night in Atlanta, Andre woke from his sleep with vomiting and complained of stomach pain. Something did not seem right, so Alexandra took Dre to the local hospital and was told that he likely had a stomach virus. The next day, Andre still complained of stomach pain, so Alexandra took him to a different hospital. The work-up suggested appendicitis so he was transferred to Children’s Hospital of Atlanta.

They got Dre ready for what’s supposed to be a 20 minute surgery to remove his appendix. After 10 minutes, the doctor came back out. Upon seeing the look on his face, Rich could tell something was wrong.

He told Rich and Alexandra to sit down. And they heard the words no parent ever wants to hear.

“I found a tumor on his kidney.”

The parents were told they would be admitted to the oncology unit.

“Everything starts to hit you,” Rich said.

“Is it cancer? They can’t answer that. So you have to wait until the next day to get a scan. And it’s a nightmare. You start thinking about everything else.”

The family knew they had to start planning, which meant moving back to Buffalo so Andre could receive whatever treatment he needed at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The Journey Back to Buffalo

The next day, Andre’s scan revealed he had a tumor on his left kidney, which was thought to be a Wilms tumor. It was so close to rupturing that he had to have surgery to remove both the tumor and his kidney right away.  After surgery, Andre experienced several post-operative complications, including fluid in his lung.  This kept him in the hospital longer than expected.  

The Sanders family were informed prior to discharge that he was stage 3, with favorable pathology, and with one positive lymph node.  They were told to expect radiation to his left flank and six months of chemotherapy upon their return to Buffalo.  He was finally discharged on September 14, and the family began their journey back to Buffalo.

Thankfully, Andre was cleared to fly, so he flew to Western New York with Alexandra and DJ. Rich drove back with their dog. 

A few days later, they were at Roswell Park, where Dr. Denise Rokitka laid everything out for them. They started with a CT scan, which showed that all the fluid in Andre’s lungs was gone. But it also revealed two nodules in his chest. Once again, plans changed. 

Because genetic testing showed the tumors to be more aggressive, treatment changed from radiation to the left flank only and 22 weeks of chemotherapy to 33 weeks of chemotherapy and whole lung radiation. While this treatment plan was more intense, it also significantly increased survival rates.  

“It was a no-brainer,” Rich said. 

Andre started treatment in September 2019, and he’s handling it like a pro. Even when his hair started to fall out.

“He said, ‘I am going to be bald like my dad! It’s no big deal,’” Rich said. “Andre takes everything in stride.”

The Big Shave

Andre with friends at Sabres

Andre will be joining Bella and Adriana on March 5 to shave Marty Biron and Dan Dunleavy’s heads as they go Bald for Bucks. To Andre and his family, their support means everything.

“It’s great to have genuine people in this city that care and in this organization that actually do something that impacts people’s lives,” Rich said. 

“Marty has a genuine heart for children. Maybe that has something to do with being a father. But there are those people that are genuine, no matter who they are. That’s Marty.

“Duffer is another amazing guy. I talk to him and I feel like I’ve known him for 20 years, and I’ve only had three conversations with him. He reminds me of an old friend that I talk to, and I don’t even know him like that.”

As a father, watching his son go through cancer is hard, but Andre and the rest of Rich’s family can handle anything.

“I grew up and was in environments where you’re taught to suppress your emotions. But with this, it’s the ultimate weak spot for me. I try to suppress as much as I can, but there’ll be times I am driving and it just hits me,” Rich said.

“There’s so much I have to keep doing to keep him and DJ not entrenched in this. It’s what has to happen. I was in a Target, and one of Andre’s favorite songs came on. I had to go in the corner near the Christmas trees and sob.”

But despite what the Sanders family is going through, they make sure to fill their house with one very important thing – love.

“We express it every day – in speech and in hugs. We are very expressive because my wife didn’t have that growing up, and I didn’t either. We want to raise our household like that.”

And it’s safe to say those expressions of love are paying off.

“Andre will say, ‘I love you’ randomly. When I come home at night, he essentially runs to the door and says, ‘Dad’s home!’”

And what’s Rich’s hope for Andre in the future?

“Never forget what he’s overcome and how he overcame it. We all go through things. And it’s one thing to just get through them. But he has taken it to a whole new level. He rose to the occasion.

“I want to remind of him of the tough times and of his strength. He can handle anything. He can do it, and not only get through it, but impact and change other people. I want him to stay true to that.”

Follow Andre the Warrior on Instagram here.

Get to Know Bella, The Girl Who Started It All

You only have to spend a few minutes with Bella to realize she has a heart of gold. According to her mom, Jamie, she is caring, loving and always thinking of others.

“On Bella’s first day of kindergarten, one of her classmate couldn’t go outside because she didn’t have her EpiPen and was allergic to bees. Bella stayed back so the girl wouldn’t be alone. They played together in the classroom while everyone was outside,” Jamie said.

This is just one of many examples of Bella big heart. Despite her battle with cancer, Bella has remained a sweetheart who is always looking out for others. 

And she’s doing well!

“She is the strongest person we have ever met,” Jamie said. “Always smiling despite the many ups and downs we have faced.”

Bella was the first Courage of Carly Fund kid to shave Marty Biron’s head live on air. In 2018, she passed the clippers onto Adriana and the girls shaved Marty and Dan Dunleavy’s heads. And on March 5th, the pair becomes a trio with the addition of Andre.

Our Inspiration: Tim

Tim just turned 18, and that means he gets to start living out his dream as a professional firefighter. Previously, he was a junior firefighter with the Hy-View Fire Department and now is a volunteer firefighter at U-Crest Fire Department. Turning a love of helping people into his career is something Tim can’t wait for, especially now as a cancer survivor.

Tim at Ride finish line

Tim was diagnosed with T-cell leukemia when he was 16 years old. In total, his treatment was supposed to take four years. He had his first round of chemotherapy for 30 days. But the doctors weren’t happy with his progress, so they switched his plan to two more rounds of chemo followed by a bone marrow transplant, which he had on August 16, 2018. He spent 30 days in the hospital afterward.

Thankfully, he was able to go home after those 30 days and then came twice a week to Roswell Park for checkups and different tests. Instead of four years of treatment, he will just have check-ups for the next two years. After 100 days from his transplant, Tim got the best news – he was in remission! 

When he was first diagnosed, he asked that local firefighters send T-shirts to him for strength. What started out as a local initiative quickly spread like wildfire, and Tim was receiving T-shirts from fire departments as far away as Hawaii. 

He even started a Facebook page called Timmy’s Battle to document it all! He is also an active member of the Courage of Carly Fund at Roswell Park where he met his girlfriend at an exercise class.

Tim’s life-changing illness turned him into a super sweet man, according to his mom, Deana. While he had to grow up faster than most, anytime he can do something for someone else, Tim is there to lend a helping hand. 

Tim's Favorite Things

Our Inspiration: Zaida

February 4, 2019, was a very special day for sassy Zaida. Not only was it World Cancer Day, but she also rang the Victory Bell at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center to celebrate the end of her treatment. Her cancer journey was not an easy one.

It took doctors seven months to diagnose Zaida. After months of tests, ER visits and thinking it was a viral infection, she was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma. By the time she received her diagnosis, cancer had taken over the majority of her body. Throughout her torso, Zaida was covered – in her lungs, hips, shoulders, kidneys and spleen. Her treatment included five full cycles of chemotherapy, She would receive chemo the first three days; the fourth day she would get a shot; and then she got a break for two days. Once that was up, she started the cycle all over again.

Zaida

Zaida was a rapid responder to her treatment, and after the second cycle, the majority of her cancer was gone! She was a superstar throughout her entire journey and started exploring the makeup world, experimenting with eyeshadows, lipsticks and more. She was beyond excited to ring the victory bell in February.

Her mom, Brianne, says that Zaida did really, really well with the treatment, and because she had been so bad before, she was like herself all over again once she started receiving chemo. One side effect of her journey has been anxiety and depression, but Zaida is working through it and inspiring others around her, too, especially on her Instagram.

Now, she’s in cosmetology school working hard and pursuing her dreams of becoming a professional makeup artist. No matter what life throws at her, Zaida conquers it all!

“There’s a CAN in cancer because we can beat it!” Zaida Smith
Zaida
Zaida

Zaida's Favorite Things

Our Inspiration: Drake

Drake is a kindhearted teen who loves a good practical joke and a nail-biting scary movie. He wasn’t always like this, though – cancer prevented him from being himself.

Drake’s journey started when he woke up one morning and could not move his arms or legs. Not only were they extremely swollen, but he also had a 103 fever. Doctors believed it was a viral infection, but when his symptoms continued – and got worse – his mom, Debbie, started Googling for answers. She kept getting results for one thing – leukemia. 

 

Drake in hospital bed

On November 17, 2017, Drake went in for an X-ray of his arms. His mom was driving him home when they got the call to come back to the hospital because it was, indeed, leukemia. Drake began his first round of chemotherapy, which was followed by a bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately, that treatment didn’t work, so he was put on a more intense plan. He spent the next year in the hospital.

Drake was then genetically tested, which came back positive and meant he was at high risk. He was put on a special chemo pill to help with his mutation. He still takes an oral chemo pill to keep him on track, but Drake is back to being a fun-loving jokester who’s always down for a laugh.

November 25, 2019, will be a very special date for Drake as he will be ringing the victory bell at Roswell Park! 

You can continue to follow his story at Drake’s Journey on Facebook. 

Drake's Favorite Things

Our Inspiration: Nya

The fabulous and vibrant Nya is an unstoppable force – and always has been. A dancer at heart, she’s traveled across the country to participate in competitions, showcasing her incredible skills. But that changed in 2013.

Nya had been sick for several weeks and was in and out of doctors’ offices, trying to figure out what was wrong. When her eye started protruding, her parents, Lindsay and Maurice, took her to the ER. What they thought would be a quick visit turned into a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia. This diagnosis, which is actually an adult form of leukemia, meant Nya would have to stay in the hospital for four to six months.

Nya

Her treatment started with 10 days of radiation treatment to her eye, followed by her first round of chemotherapy. These procedures were within days of each other. Because of how harsh the treatment was, Nya needed to be carefully supervised since infection is a huge risk. She also had to spend time recovering in between each chemo treatment. At one point, she spent 42 days straight in the hospital.

Between her third and fourth rounds, Nya developed a fever that sent her body into septic shock. She spent 21 days in a coma. But this determined girl pulled through. She had her final round of chemo and was declared cancer free in 2014.

While cancer stopped her competing in dance for a little while, Nya jumped right back in after her treatment was over. In 2019, she attended  the International Models and Talent Competition and was awarded Pre-Teen Dancer of the Year and first runner-up for the Pre-Teen Actor of the Year!

“She’s talented, but she also has this backstory that you just wouldn’t believe,” her mom says.

Nya also started Nya Noodle Network, where she collects pajamas for sick kids in hospitals. The inspirational Nya is on a mission to change the world – watch out! You may just see her on TV one day.

Nya’s mantra throughout her treatment was “keep smiling,” and it’s something she still uses to this day. She encourages everyone, no matter what they are going through, to do so with a smile on their face.

Nya's Favorite Things

Register today and go Bald for kids like Nya

Our Inspiration: Adriana

Energetic Adriana loves to dance (jazz, ballet and tap, to be exact), play soccer and spend time with animals. But when she was diagnosed with cancer, she had to put these things on hold.

Her cancer journey began on January 7, 2018. Adriana’s mom, Cindy, noticed that the right side of her abdomen was distended, or swollen. After going to urgent care and getting an X-ray, Adriana was sent to the hospital, where she was immediately diagnosed with cancer and admitted while doctors tried to figure out what type of cancer she had. They found spots on her lungs, about 20 of them, which eventually led to the diagnosis of a Wilms tumor on her right kidney. 

Adriana with pet

Adriana received a mediport, which is a device placed under the skin that helps doctors administer medicine, and started chemotherapy while still in the hospital. After one week, she was discharged to go home but kept receiving outpatient chemo for six weeks to help shrink the tumor and the lung nodules.

In February 2018, Adriana underwent major surgery to remove her right kidney. When the doctors analyzed the tumor, they found it to be very aggressive, so they put her on a lengthy and intense chemo treatment. It was also required that Adriana receive 13 radiation treatments to her abdomen, pelvis and lungs. This treatment took her until right after Thanksgiving 2018, when she was declared cancer free!

Adriana rocked and rolled all throughout her treatment. Her mom says she was so strong and pushed her way through. And now, she’s back to doing the things that she loves – running around with her brothers and sisters, playing tag and taking care of her pets, which include two guinea pigs, Ally and Oreo, and a Great Dane named Stanley. She also spends her days coloring, painting and living her best life as a mermaid.

Adriana's Favorite Things