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Long Island middle, elementary school girls shave heads for childhood cancer

Kathren Mellon, 8, and her mother, Jenevieve Santoriello,

Kathren Mellon, 8, and her mother, Jenevieve Santoriello, decided to shave their heads for the St. Baldrick's Foundation event at Napper Tandy's Irish Pub in Northport. Credit: Lynn Kenny

When 10-year-old Kaitlyn Konop told her parents last November that she wanted to have her head shaved for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, her parents were wary at first.

So the fifth-grader at Dickinson Avenue Elementary School in East Northport decided to write her mom and dad, Jenny and Alex Konop, a letter to explain why the cause was important to her.

“I can choose to do something or I can choose to do nothing. I choose something,” the letter says, addressed to “Mom + Dad.”

“I’m done being a bystander. I want to help win this war.”

At the St. Baldrick’s Foundation event at Napper Tandy's Irish Pub in Northport on March 9, Kaitlyn was among dozens who got their heads shaved to raise money for pediatric cancer and to show solidarity with the children who are affected.

She was also one of a handful of middle- and elementary-school girls who wanted to get their heads shaved that day. Lynn Kenny, a co-organizer of the Northport event, said St. Baldrick’s brings out participants from “all walks of life” including children, elderly, men and women, and she’s been seeing more younger girls taking part.  

“The girls are definitely starting to climb on board,” she said. “Every year, I get blown away by this town.”

Kaitlyn said she was inspired to participate by one of her friends whose family has been touched by cancer — and Kaitlyn’s grandparents have also both gone through cancer treatments — so when hearing about St. Baldrick’s, she thought she could participate. She was the only girl in her friend group who shaved her head, she said.

“I thought I would be doing a big thing,” Kaitlyn explained of her decision. “I just wanted to do this to raise money for the kids who have cancer that are dying, while we are playing outside and having fun.”

Eight-year-old Kathren Mellon was holding hands with her mom, Jenevieve Santoriello, that day at Napper Tandy’s when they both got their heads shaved. And Kathren’s inspiration was watching her from the crowd.

Kathren’s dad, Pat Mellon,  had stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma in 2016 and was the reason the third-grader at Pulaski Road Elementary School decided to have her head shaved that day.

“She said, ‘it’s for you,’” said Pat Mellon, 51, who is now cancer-free. “That’s an amazing thing to hear from your 8-year-old daughter.”

Santoriello said Kathren was 6 when her father had cancer, and she was affected by seeing him go through treatments. Kathren had talked about the fundraiser with her mom and thought it would be a good way to offer help to the cause, she said.

Kathren said she was feeling “scared, but excited” that day because she had never done something like that before, but she prepared for it by writing her classmates a letter to explain what she was doing.

In the letter, she said she was stepping up to help prevent anyone else from having to go through what her father did, she said.

Natalie Atkins, 11, decided to have her head shaved less than 24 hours before it happened.

The sixth-grader at Northport Middle School said she saw some of her classmates getting their heads shaved for the cause at a St. Baldrick’s event the day before, but didn’t see any girls her age doing it.

So the next day at Napper Tandy’s, she got her hair shaved off to support the cause.

“I wanted to show that girls can do it, too,” Natalie said. “I just wanted all the girls to know it’s not that bad — it’s honestly pretty great.”

Natalie’s mom, Julie Hendricks-Atkins, said when Natalie told her about her split-second decision to participate, she was “taken by surprise.” Her daughter had always kept her hair long, but when Natalie explained to her why she wanted to show her support, she could tell her daughter was serious about the cause.

“It’s an emotional thing,” Hendricks-Atkins said. “Your hair is kind of like your security blanket.”

Upon returning to school, Natalie said people were “bewildered” and told her that she was brave, but she says she hopes she inspired others to show solidarity with those who don’t have a choice to be bald.

“I wanted to make a statement,” Natalie said. “I just wanted people to realize that kids’ cancer needs to be treated.”

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