MERRILLVILLE — For children battling cancer, baldness isn’t a choice. It’s among the most visible side effects of chemotherapy

On Sunday afternoon, more than 300 people of all ages chose to go bald — or at least have their hair shaved to peach fuzz — at the fifth annual St. Baldrick’s Day event sponsored by NICK, the Northwest Indiana Cancer Kids Foundation based in Schererville.

This was the second year the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 provided the venue for NICK’s St. Baldrick’s Day event, said Donna Criner, who co-founded the NICK Foundation organization in 2009 with her daughter, Katie Perschon, after their family was struck by pediatric cancer.

Funds raised during this “brave the shave” event go to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation for research into pediatric cancer, Criner said. The “shaves” cost $25 while those who also wanted a T-shirt to commemorate the occasion paid $50.

During the last five years, NICK Foundation has raised $150,000 for pediatric cancer research through its St. Baldrick’s Day events, Criner said.

Pediatric cancer research funding lags far behind that for cancers affecting adults, yet the number of children diagnosed with cancer continues to rise in Northwest Indiana, she said.

In addition, Criner said, many of the chemotherapy treatments given to children are geared for adults and can be toxic to the youngsters, who often are diagnosed as babies or toddlers.

Sunday’s event came together thanks to many individuals and groups, she said.

Zig-E’s Funland in St. John provided the fun fair games and prizes, while 219 Productions of Highland sponsored the photo booth. The Purdue Northwest women’s soccer team volunteered to get the hall ready for the event. Students from Tricoci University of Beauty Culture of Highland offered princess makeovers and stylists from Texture Pointe Salon in St. John provided the new looks for men, women and children.

Steven Luzynski, 10, a fourth-grader at Wadsworth Elementary School in Griffith, just decided Sunday morning that he wanted to have his head shaved.

Accompanied by his mother, Melissa Lohmann, Steven waited his turn for one of the stylists to make quick work shaving off his thick dark brown hair.

“We want to give back to this great organization,” Lohmann said.

Pamela Witvoet, of Hebron, had her head shaved in support of her 4-year-old stepson, Ethan Mrskos, who recently completed four months of chemotherapy in his fight against Stage 3 lymphoma.

“This is my second time doing this. Two years ago I had my head shaved. Now I have a very special reason,” Witvoet said.

Under the watchful eye of his dad, Paul Mrskos, Ethan participated in the fun fair games and mingled with the Superheroes, Disney Princesses and Elmo, giving them special smiley-face stickers. The youngster also sported a red cape.

Nate Swanson, 5, of St. John, wore his green “I Braved the Shave” T-shirt as he played games and collected prizes that his dad, Bryan Swanson, carried in both hands.

The NICK Foundation St. Baldrick’s Day event is very much a family affair, said Bryan.

“My wife, Shannon, works for the NICK Foundation. She started as a volunteer and then became involved in it,” he said about the organization that provides hope, support and counseling to families affected by pediatric cancer.

Three years ago, Isaac Yost, of Valparaiso, was bald from chemotherapy to fight his pediatric leukemia. On Sunday, the 9-year old student at Discovery Charter School in Chesterton chose to have his head shaved as part of the Super Heroes for Rusty Team organized by his mother, Liz Yost.

Head shaving wasn’t the only hair-razing activity at this St. Baldrick’s Day event.

Jennifer Arrenholz, of Lake Village, organized a group called The A-Team to provide hair donations that will be given to Pantene to make wigs for cancer patients.

The “A” represents her 4-year-old daughter, Abigail, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at the age of 4 months. On Sunday, Abigail proudly sat in a salon chair while a Texture Pointe Salon stylist cut off two 11-inch ponytails the youngster had grown.

“She wanted to look like Rapunzel when she cut her hair,” Jennifer said of her daughter’s hair donation.

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