A community manifesto

Susan Robinson is more than a little nervous about shaving her head. But on May 7, the regional executive director of the American Cancer Society will say goodbye to her mahogany mane, with its carefully applied white highlights. Yup, Robinson is having her head shaved—with a No. 0 razor, no less. But it’s for a good cause.

Robinson is one of several community-minded individuals helping raise money for 10-year-old Richie Shannon, a local boy with a rare cancer, Rhabdomyosarcoma. Besides medical bills, Richie’s family has to travel from Reno to Oakland Children’s Hospital for treatments, and that gets pretty expensive.

Robinson’s goal is modest. She wants to raise $500 for Richie by adopting the bald look. So far she has nearly half that amount in pledges.

“I gotta do it,” Robinson said. “I told a hairdresser that the only reason not to do it is vanity. He said that vanity is big. Of course, that’s his business.”

Losing hair is traumatic for cancer patients, Robinson said. It’s almost as traumatic as the cancer itself for some. Having seen brave patients go through this makes Robinson irritated with her own fears.

“It seems wimpy that I have the trepidation that I do about it,” she said.

If a family has to go through something as life-altering as dealing with a child’s cancer, it sure helps to have this kind of community support. It’s something that seems to get forgotten in the new Survivor era.

The Survivor shows—you know you love ’em—appeal to the bloodthirsty capitalist in us all. We want to be winners, to pull ourselves up by those quixotic bootstraps and stomp the competition. The idea has served us well over the years. But how does “survival of the fittest” play out in reality?

Once, I had an anthropology professor who told my class that if our society were really all about eliminating the weakest link, he’d be a goner. The professor had a physical condition that should have been fatal. He’d been saved by medical technology and lived to pass on genetic flaws. In a Survivor-oriented society, the tribe would have voted him off the planet: “Death to the defective!” (If this sounds unlikely, then you didn’t pay attention in those Western Traditions classes, and you’ve never rented Schindler’s List or Life is Beautiful.)

If you like the idea of a feisty tribe that’s picky about its membership, go ahead and claw your way to the top. I prefer the Hillary Clinton-esque village, the group of people who rallies around a weak link, armed with kind words and a willingness to be bald.

You can sponsor Robinson or other wannabe wig-wearers by sending donations to the Richie Shannon Medical Fund, First National Bank of Nevada, Account No. 111-03-065, 2405 Vassar Street, Reno, Nev., 89502. E-mail pattigingras@hotmail.com or call 331-2303 for more info.