She's on a mission to spread kindness.
Leeyana Cheek practices kindness in every area of her life, from her interactions with teachers and exchanges with friends to her drive to give back to her community. Through every obstacle life has thrown her way, kindness has been a constant. She wants others to know they aren’t alone, especially when they’re hurting or going through an illness like cancer.
“Kindness means to me that you still put on a smile for people, even when you’re going through your own stuff,” Leeyana says. “If you see that someone’s down, talk to them. Maybe it’s something that you have no idea about but talking to someone might just brighten up their day.”
This past Bald for Bucks season, Leeyana joined her fellow classmates on stage in the auditorium at Amherst Middle School to spread that message of kindness. A barber behind her and an audience in front, she donned a shy expression and a black barbers’ cape with an edgy white skull on it. After her hair had been cut and shaved, she ran a hand over her freshly bald head and smiled from ear to ear. Her two closest friends cheered her on in the audience and celebrated with her afterward, as did one of her teachers, Kevin Fildes.
If you ask Leeyana her why for participating in Bald for Bucks, she’ll list a handful: her aunt, her father, her teacher, those affected by cancer and everyone who needs to know they’re not alone. Here’s a closer look at each one.
Leeyana’s aunt was a source of constant kindness for Leeyana. She exuded warmth, and her big heart showed each time she slipped Leeyana orange chocolate or spending money. Leeyana still recalls the sound of her aunt’s voice when she called Leeyana “beautiful baby” in her native Italian tongue. When her aunt passed away from breast cancer, Leeyana’s whole family felt the loss, and Bald for Bucks gave Leeyana a way to make a difference in the lives of others affected by such a devastating disease.
Every year on her birthday, Leeyana received a poem from her dad, penned by him for his ‘little Cheek,’ as he lovingly referred to her. She recalls driving with him and listening to the Hamilton soundtrack or singing “Your Shot” together whenever they had a chance. They shared an annual tradition where Leeyana’s father would cut her hair every year at the same time that he shaved his head. When he passed away, Leeyana saw Bald for Bucks as a way to honor her father and keep that tradition going.
Leeyana’s dedicates her third why to her favorite teacher who stood in front of her classroom to address an ongoing bullying situation. She shared a story about her nephew who had shaved his head during cancer treatment and been teased for the way it looked. That story stayed with Leeyana, and shaving her head is her way of standing in solidarity with her teacher’s nephew and showing people that being bald truly is beautiful.
Leeyana knows life’s challenges. She’s experienced loss and faced bullies and still holds her head high. She feels strongly that no one should ever feel down or alone and hopes that participating in Bald for Bucks will help her spread kindness and make cancer patients feel less alone.