By Sue Botos
Two weeks ago, students at St. Bernadette School in Westlake made a video to cheer up and support fourth-grader Michael Orbany, who has been battling metastatic medulloblastoma, cancer of the brain and spine, for about four years. Little did they know that it would become a YouTube hit.
“The intent was to make him happy. I wish you had some idea of the big impact you have made on pediatric cancer (research) around the world. It’s spreading like wildfire. I’m so proud, I can’t tell you how much,” Michael’s mother, Georgianne, told the group of students and visitors gathered in the school gym on Friday.
The enthusiastic crowd sang and cheered as they watched more than 100 volunteers, from preschoolers, to teachers, to Captain America, “Brave the Buzz” and get their locks shorn during a St. Baldrick’s event to raise funds for pediatric cancer research.
Before the head shaving began, Orbany, a Rocky River resident, said that it usually takes about two months to plan one of the hair-razing events. “It took us a little over two weeks. When we have you we never, ever give up!”
Orbany was also amazed at the almost $40,000 that the school quickly raised. “We raised so much money in such a short time, our doctors at the (Cleveland) Clinic were in awe,” she said, adding that a research grant has been established at the hospital for pediatric cancer research as a result.
Kevin Brown, Orbany’s cousin, traveled from his home in Michigan with friend Barb Duncan, as a surprise for his family. His eyes teared a bit as he watched students and guests fill the gym and a line of 18 stylists ready their shears. “We do the best we can from a distance. The support has been wonderful,” he commented. Duncan noted the posters and signs that covered the walls urging Michael to be brave. “Whoever said winning isn’t everything obviously wasn’t fighting cancer,” said one poster.
Michael himself urged the “shavees” to be brave as his mother piloted his wheelchair down the row where he posed for pictures, and laid his hand on the shoulders of schoolmates going under the clippers. “I was just a tiny bit scared. It still feels like there’s hair up there,” said Jack Kiskora, rubbing his new do.
Rich Noga, scoutmaster for Troop 225, which oversees Michael’s Cub Scout pack, waited in his uniform for his turn. He recalled Michael’s positive attitude, always remaining upbeat despite his illness. “You can see how all the kids relate to him,” he said, looking around the gym. “He just draws them all in.”
Even athletes from St. Edward and St. Ignatius high schools put aside their rivalries to become barbers for a day, and “buzz” each other under the watchful eyes of a stylist. St. Edward’s “Trash Talkers,” percussionists using trash cans for instruments, also entertained the crowd.
Shane Haddad, a third-grader at St. Christoper School in Rocky River who also is fighting brain cancer, and his mother, Amy, were also on hand to show support.
Several female teachers sported “bald caps,” stating they were “too chicken” to go through with the shave. But seventh-grader Edie Bocha bravely took a seat, looking just slightly concerned as her ponytail was cut, and the rest of her hair clipped. “You can be bald and be beautiful,” she said.
Led by MC “Coach Theo,” the students did a wave to the day’s theme song, Sara Bareilles’ “Brave,” as a warm-up to the main event. Art teacher Kristen Fox, complete with a fox tail, had set a goal of $10,000 for herself and Team Fox. As promised, she went under the shears. “I can really feel the cold air!” she stated as her dark, shoulder-length hair fell to the floor.
But Fox took it a step further. Because her team not only met but exceeded its goal, she had the letters NEGU, for Michael’s motto, “Never, Ever Give Up,” etched into the stubble. For a total of $50,000, she may keep up her do for a year.
During her remarks, Georgianne Orbany said that the event will be memorable for all. “I need to tell you, you have made a difference and you will remember this for years. Not just for Michael, but for others all over the world.”