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Off the Clock features Press of Atlantic City staffers writing about their lives outside the newsroom. To read more of our Off the Clock columns, visit PressofAC.com/Life/OffTheClock

ATLANTIC CITY — Brave the shave.

I thought a lot about this inspirational mantra while I was waiting to get my head and beard shaved at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa on Friday afternoon. It was one of several sayings used to inspire participants at the annual St. Baldrick’s Foundation event who had their own heads shaved in an act of solidarity and support for children battling cancer.

Brave the shave.

It preoccupied my mind while I watched others take their turn.

I didn’t feel like what I was about to do was particularly brave. After all, I am a moderately healthy 34-year-old man whose hair will grow back before Easter.

But, many of my fellow “shavees,” whom also raised money for childhood cancer research, were indeed brave.

Such as Vanessa Marin, the young lady in the barber chair next to me on stage. Marin, a Borgata employee, had long dark-brown hair that went down to at least the middle of her back when she sat down in that chair. Nearly 20 minutes later, she was sporting the “G.I. Jane” look.

Marin wound up raising more than $2,000 for childhood cancer research by participating in St. Baldrick’s, and even donated her hair to another charity.

Or Lucas and Ben Johnson, brothers from Tuckerton who shaved their heads for the second year in a row. Thinking about the courage it must take for school-age boys to go through with something like that is both humbling and inspiring.

But, even as brave as Marin or the Johnson brothers are, it pales in comparison to the reason we were all there in the first place.

Every year in the United States, more than 10,000 children are diagnosed with cancer and, other than accidents, it is the second leading cause of death among children ages 1 to 14, according to the American Cancer Society.

Those thousands of kids, and their families who fight alongside them, are brave.

In fact, they are more than that. They are nothing short of heroic.

While the survival rate for children diagnosed with cancer has improved significantly over the last decade, funding for research has lagged behind. Less than 4 percent of the National Cancer Institute’s budget is dedicated to childhood cancer research.

That, to me, is unacceptable.

The St. Baldrick’s event at Borgata raised nearly $28,000, which is beyond commendable.

Cancer is an indiscriminate disease that has, unfortunately, touched most of us.

In October, I lost a loved one to cancer, and the wound is still fresh.

In fact, it was one of the main reasons I decided to participate in St. Baldrick’s this year. When a spokesperson from Borgata called me to ask if we could do a story about St. Baldrick’s, I knew I had to do better.

My grief compelled me to act, to do something, anything. I felt the need to show my own two children — who are still too young to fully understand they will never see Grandpa Jon again — that something good can come from pain.

So, as I sat in that chair Friday while Celeste Coia, of Hammonton, shaved my head and beard, I thought about Jon, his wife and his two daughters. I thought about the last hug I gave to a man who had always been larger than life to me. I thought about his last words to me.

I thought about the fear, the agony, the anger, the uncertainty and, ultimately, the acceptance we all felt while Jon was suffering more than any of us could imagine.

And, I realized that bravery comes in many forms.

I will never be as brave as a 6-year-old boy battling leukemia or as strong as the father of a little girl fighting Ewing sarcoma. I will never be as brave as Jon.

But I also know that as long as there are people like Vanessa Marin or Lucas and Ben Johnson in this world, those among us who are forced to confront cancer will never be alone.

We can all be brave. Together.

Contact: 609-272-7222 ddanzis@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressDanzis

Staff Writer

I cover Atlantic City government and the casino industry since joining The Press in early 2018. I formerly worked as a politics & government reporter for NJ Herald and received the First Amendment: Art Weissman Memorial NJPA Award two years in a row.

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