Church members go bald to support young cancer fighters

IMG_0669Nuevo Nacimiento (New Birth) UM Church in Lebanon, PA, reversed a key part of the biblical story of Samson on a recent Sunday afternoon, when the Latino church’s sanctuary became a barbershop offering extreme cuts for a worthy cause. Rather than draining its heroes of their strength, these haircuts generated strength in numbers, as members showed solidarity with two young cancer fighters.

Following the church’s Feb. 28 worship service four barbers from the community came forward to set up chairs at the front of the sanctuary and went to work. In about two hours they had shaved the heads of 32 men and women who volunteered to go bald in a show of support for Arelis Rodriguez, 15, and Remedy Martinez, 10, two girls in their community who have lost their hair in their battles with cancer.

IMG_0711Arelis Rodriguez, who was at the shave-in, was diagnosed Dec. 11, 2015, with stage 4, high-risk neuroblastoma.  Martinez, who was still in the hospital, was diagnosed Dec. 15 with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) with Flint Three, which is difficult to treat. It is a rare disease that usually affects men over age 65, said her grandfather, Jose Martinez.  Both girls lost their hair from chemotherapy treatments at Hershey Medical Center.

“When I heard the news about these young ladies, I felt a closeness to them because my daughter is around the same age,” Lissette Basquimi told a Lebanon Daily News reporter after getting her head shaved. “I am grateful to God for the health of my daughter, and I wanted to show solidarity with these young girls.”

IMG_0642Nearly 200 people stayed after worship to watch or participate in the highly emotional shave-in, according to Jose Rodriguez, a PATH 1 ministerial intern on Nuevo Nacimiento’s staff. The church typically has about 300 people in worship, including many youth and young adults. It is the largest Latino congregation in the United Methodist Church’s Northeastern Jurisdiction.

“People were on their feet, and many were testifying and breaking down crying as the haircuts were happening,” said Rodriguez. He recalled that many spectators, including youth, came forward suddenly, with little forethought, to sacrifice their locks for the cause. Their outcries were mixed with the sounds of barbers’ clippers and recorded music playing in the background, as some members signed a large poster adorned with a yellow ribbon and words of support for Arelis.

The church also organized a fundraiser to help Aracelis Suriel, Arelis’ mother, pay medical bills while she is out of work caring for her daughter.  “We are also in great need of a vehicle,” said the single mother of three, “so I can take Arelis to the hospital for her treatments, appointments and especially during her unexpected illnesses that occur.”

The Martinez family is facing a different challenge.  “We need bone marrow donors from Hispanics and African-Americans,” said Jose Martinez, Remedy’s grandfather, “because there are hardly any in the bone marrow bank, and we are having a hard time finding a good match for Remedy.”

Donating bone marrow is similar to donating blood. It can be done at any hospital.

Remedy’s grandmother, Jo-Ann Martinez,  told the reporter, “Remedy is a strong girl, and when she lost her hair, she was fine. She had a fit when she lost her eyebrows, though.”

Arelis’s mom went bald right away. “I’ve been shaving my hair since the second chemo,” she said. “She lost her hair, so I shaved mine off, too. I let it grow a little bit so I could do it again today.”

If you are interested in donating financially to help these girls, please contact the Rev. Elena Ortiz, Nuevo Nacimiento’s senior pastor, at elenaindia@aol.com or 717-273-5331. Ortiz and her family organized the solidarity event and fundraising effort. You can also donate to help with Arelis’  expenses at her Go Fund Me webpage, https://www.gofundme.com/arelis. 

By John W. Coleman
Eastern PA Conference Communications Director

Information for this story was provided by Jose L. Rodriguez Jr. of Nuevo Nacimiento UMC and by reporter Merriell Moyer, whose article appears in the Lebanon Daily News.

New Birth/Nuevo Nacimiento UMC photos by Katty Lopez