Third Grader ‘Braves the Shave’ to Raise Money for Pediatric Cancer Research

For the third straight year, young Sophie Vanderheiden shaved her head to raise awareness, and money, for childhood cancer research during the annual St. Baldrick’s head shaving event.

Sophie Vanderheiden sits next to her dad, Eric, ready to get matching haircuts. Moments later, Eric's hair is being shaved off, and Sophie's thick, dark curls are, too. It's not a look most 9-year-old girls would sign up for. But for Sophie, losing her locks has become an important tradition. For the past three years, she's shaved her head to raise awareness, and funds, for childhood cancer research, including research taking place at Mayo Clinic. "It helps kids who have to lose their hair because they get sick, and this helps find a way for them to get better," she says.

Sophie first shaved her head back in 2017. "Our family tries to do something for a cause each year," Sophie's mom, Armanda Vanderheiden, a nurse at Mayo Clinic's Children Center, tells us. That year had been an especially difficult one for many of her patients. "A lot of kids had gotten a bad cancer diagnosis or found out their chemo wasn't working," Armanda says. She wanted to do something to help, and asked her family if they'd consider shaving their heads for St. Baldrick's Foundation, which raises funds for pediatric cancer research through head shaving events. Her family agreed, and together they raised $1,500.

The day after that first shave, Sophie had a question for her mom: "I never have to do that again, do I?" Armanda assured her she did not. But by January, Sophie had a change of heart. She began another round of fundraising, making videos to post on her mom's social media pages and creating a flyer to share with family, friends and her parents' Mayo Clinic colleagues. She also worked to recruit other "shavees" to the cause. "She actually got one of her friends to do it with her last year," says Armanda, who joined the girls and "braved the shave" again, too. Sophie's recruitment efforts even continued during the family's summer vacation. "She got lots of compliments on her cute short haircut," Amanda says. "She'd tell people, 'You could have cute hair, too,' and then tell them about St. Baldrick's."

At this year's event, Sophie was honored as a "Squire of Hope," a designation given to those who have given three years of service to St. Baldrick's. She was also recognized as the event's top fundraiser, receiving a medal (and well-deserved bragging rights) for collecting close to $2,700 to help kids fighting cancer. In total, she's raised more than $5,000 for St. Baldrick's. "It makes me feel proud of myself," Sophie tells KIMT of her efforts. It makes her mom "super proud," too. And, grateful. "I'm glad that she does this for my patients," Armanda says, with a break in her voice. "They endure so much, and they just shoulder it. The kids we care for are amazing."

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