Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Shaving grace

Affected by several friends who received cancer diagnoses, Grace Fohrenkamm shaved her head in solidarity. Photos provided by St. Stephanus Lutheran Church

Applause coaxed a hesitant smile into a shaky grin. Approximately 40 fellow church members, along with family and friends, cheered while a 20-year-old college student — newly-bald — produced a smile. The cheers of encouragement came on a chilly January evening from within the walls of St. Stephanus Lutheran Church (LCMS) in St. Paul. There sat Grace Fohrenkamm, quietly in her chair, long auburn tresses at her feet.

“I would call it an awkward smile,” admitted Fohrenkamm, shortly after having her head shaved. “I was nervous, but I did this to honor those who have bald heads from cancer treatment. And, I chose to have it done at my church because, next to my home, it is the place most familiar to me. Also, I knew members of the congregation and the pastor would come out and be supportive.”

A friend of Fohrenkamm’s happened to be a barber and did the shaving for her. Meanwhile, St. Baldrick’s, a California-based charity, instructed this young woman in conducting the shaving’ event. As a result, almost $1,300 was raised for the nonprofit organization which funds children’s cancer research and provides grants to survivors.

St. Baldrick’s events coordinator Cynthia Ortiz consulted with Fohrenkamm regarding her fundraiser. Ortiz says she wasn’t surprised when Fohrenkamm chose her church as the event site. “Churches tend to be community-driven,” said Ortiz. “They want to bring communities together and help those in need.”

Does cutting hair make a difference?

In accordance with such church values, another young woman shaved her head several years ago. Tania Connolly, longtime member of St. Michael’s Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Bloomington, Minnesota, said “compassion learned through church and family gave [me] the strength for this tribute to cancer victims.”

St. Baldrick's Cynthia Ortiz says she wasn’t surprised when Fohrenkamm chose her church as the event site. “Churches tend to be community-driven,” said Ortiz.

Connolly shaved her head while she was a junior attending Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. At the time, two close friends had parents dealing with cancer. The friends happened to be fellow members of her college swim team. So, prior to the last meet of the season, one of these friends took a shaver to Connolly’s long wavy hair in a hotel in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

“It was awesome,” Connolly recalls. “This was an effort to support my friends and their parents. I wanted to show them that they didn’t need to be the only ones losing their hair. It’s not always about us. A simple act of shaving one’s head can help others to feel loved.”

With this act completed, Connolly sent her hair to Locks of Love, a nonprofit group that provides hairpieces for children who have lost hair due to medical illness.

Connolly has since cut and donated her hair, but has not shaved again. However, this special education teacher is reminded of this experience when she sees the small, bald head of one her students, a little girl who lost her hair due to a medical illness. “She knows I was that way once,” says Connolly softly, “so she has become my little buddy.”

Amazing Grace

Like Connolly, Fohrenkamm has also worked with children, both in a daycare and teaching Sunday school. “I shaved my head in solidarity for children who have no choice due to chemo or radiation. Especially for girls — what we look like seems so important. Normally a little girl can decide how she wants her hair — whether it is pigtails or curls. But some don’t have that choice.”

Ortiz was touched by this student’s conviction to help children. “I thought it was so brave that Grace wanted to do this to help. I was glad to hear that her church was willing to host her event, and that she chose St. Baldrick’s for her charity.”

What motivates shaving? Ortiz’ answer is simple: “Somehow they have been touched by cancer in their lives.”

This was true for Fohrenkamm. Her grandmother died from breast cancer.

But a childhood friend of Fohrenkamm with acute aplastic anemia survived. “Five years later … we’re still in touch, Facebook friends!”

However, sadly, cancer claimed another friend. Carroll Pracht died eight years ago, at the age of 72, from liver cancer. Fohrenkamm knew Pracht from church, and says she thought of this woman during her head shaving. “Growing up, … Carroll was always someone special. I used to help her pass out bulletins, and would sit with her during service. After she died, I didn’t want to go to church anymore.”

Yet, St. Stephanus is exactly where Fohrenkamm chose to be on an evening when she took a stand with cancer victims by taking action to look like them.

Would Carroll be proud? “Oh yeah,” Fohrenkamm smiled again.

Karen Trudeau is a freelance writer living in St. Paul. She is a member of St. Stephanus Lutheran Church there.

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