Liann Dennis got the same haircut her daughter received in 2016 -- not for the same reason but filled with similar emotion.
Dennis, 45, of Centereach, was getting her head shaved along with four other women to raise money to support childhood cancer research at the Centereach Fire Department’s annual St. Baldrick’s Day fundraiser on March 22.
The moment was particularly sentimental for Dennis because the woman who shaved her head, St. Baldrick's volunteer Annette Werner, was the same person who shaved her 16-year-old daughter Rachel’s head in 2016, after she was diagnosed with stage 3 bone cancer and knew the treatment would cause her to lose her hair. This year marks the first time Liann Dennis completely got her head shaved for St. Baldrick’s Day.
“When I signed up originally, I figured I could raise $100 I would be happy,“ said Dennis. “But then I saw all these men saying that they wanted to raise $500 and I thought ‘If a man can raise $500, a woman can raise $1,000.”
Dennis’s group, called “Soul Sisters for Sophia,” was started by her friend Diane Miller, a fellow member of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary church in Centereach. The group, which also included Lisette Robustelli, Linda Esposito and Susan Smith, set out to raise $2,000 for the event, and had already garnered more than $7,000 before the event on Friday even started. In total, the event raised more than $22,000.
“I’ve been volunteering for the past five years here, and this year with so many people having cancer in my life, and seeing so much around, I really felt strongly about shaving my head,” said Miller, 54 of Coram. “We’re all connected somehow.”
This year’s St. Baldrick’s Day event was held in honor of Sophia Fitzgerald, a 13-year-old Dawnwood Middle School student who was diagnosed with Stage 3 Nasopharyngeal Cancer in December. Fitzgerald is also a member of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and has helped teach vacation Bible school with Miller for the past two years.
For Dennis, whose daughter is now in remission and attends Utica College to study childhood medicine, the event is an opportunity to give back to the community that helped support her and her family during tough times.
“I’ve heard so many people tell me how brave they think I am, as a woman, for shaving my head,” she said. “All I’m doing is cutting my hair. My daughter fought cancer. She is a hero.”