Bald and strong: Nonprofit raises cancer awareness, challenges vanity

Showing support for cancer comes in many forms— but would you go bald for it? That’s the challenge issued by Be Bold, Be Bald!, a campaign by non-profit Small Army for a Cause.

Going bald may sound extreme, but the challenge isn’t to shave your head. Instead, Be Bold, Be Bald! asks participants to wear bald caps for one day on October 17.

It’s a vanity challenge to put on a bald cap and go about your day, founder Jeff Freedman told

“Plus, it’s a conversation starter; a lot of people see and ask what it’s about— it’s an opportunity to tell your story,” he said.

Freedman founded Small Army for a Cause in 2007 after his business partner, Mike Connell, lost his third battle with cancer. Connell had been cancer-free for 15 years after surviving Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but on Christmas Eve 2005, he found a lump in his throat.

“[He was] planning on just going in and getting it removed; didn’t know it was a big deal,” Freedman said. “They were expecting their third child the following week and found out it was stage four cancer.”

For the next two years, Connell was in and out of the hospital for treatments and radiation. His doctors thought the squamous cell carcinoma— a type of skin cancer— may have been triggered from past lymphoma treatments.

Even though Connell was the one battling the cancer, it was Freedman who needed reassuring.

“Through the whole thing, he was the one comforting me. I’d be bawling, he’d be telling me it’s okay,” Freedman said.

Connell passed away in 2007, but Freedman was determined to honor the strength he saw in his friend of eight years.

“There was this aura that people with cancer are weak because they lose their hair and weight and look weak. What we saw was amazing strength,” Freedman said. “He was literally on his deathbed… and he was telling me it would be okay.”

After its founding, Small Army for a Cause launched Be Bold, Be Bald! and its Day of Solidarity has taken place every third Friday of October.  The organization has over 50 beneficiaries including almost every type of cancer. Participants can choose which organization to fund raise for and non-profits can have their own fundraiser using Be Bold, Be Bald’s tools. Through their online shop, Be Bold, Be Bald! sells kits including bald caps, customizable posters and donation forms.

“[We] really wanted it to be all-inclusive,” Freedman said. “The beauty of a bald cap is anyone can do it… whether they’re a kid, elderly or in a wheelchair, whatever it might be, everybody can wear it. For people who are already bald, we have temporary tattoos.”

This year, they launched a celebrity ambassador program and are currently auctioning off autographed bald caps online. Participating celebrities include Celine Dion, Kathy Bates, Joan Lunden, Valerie Harper, and players from the New England Patriots.

So far, Be Bold, Be Bald! has raised more than $830,000 and aims to break $1M in 2014. One hundred percent of funds are distributed to beneficiaries.

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