By Emily Williams
No Shave November is a tradition for the men of the Mountain Brook Fire Department. It’s a month that celebrates an awareness campaign that asks people to forego a grooming routine and let their hair grow wild in honor of cancer patients.
Since 2007, members of Mountain Brook Firefighters Local 1295 have ended the month with a fundraiser, Shave-a-Firefighter, auctioning off their facial hair and scalps. Winning bidders get the opportunity to shave their pick, and all of the money is donated to a worthy cause.
“Being firemen, we are not allowed to have beards because of the face pieces we wear with our SCBA equipment,” said Mountain Brook Battalion Chief Roger Whitehead. But several of the men working on their mustaches have had much success, he said. Others have been struggling a bit.
The men will be auctioning off their facial hair to the highest bidder, who will then shave it off at the 2019 Shave-A-Fighfighter. Co-hosted by Homewood Firefighters Local 1288, the event will take place Dec. 6 at Tonya Jones SalonSpa.
Whitehead remembers the inaugural shaving event well. It was in 2007 and was organized by a group of his fellow firefighters as a way to show support for his son, Logan, who was battling pediatric cancer.
Within the first 24 hours of being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, Whitehead’s son was taken from their home in Gulf Shores to Children’s of Alabama by ambulance.
“He started chemo within the first 24 hours of reaching Children’s,” Whitehead said. As the treatments continued to kill the cancerous cells – sacrificing many of the good cells, too – Logan eventually began to lose his hair in about November.
Thirty-four local firemen from Mountain Brook and a few neighboring departments participated in the first Shave-a-Firefighter.
“I also had my head shaved with the guys so the father could be just like his son,” Whitehead said. “My wife told me that being bald is not a good look for me. She informed me that this go-around, she would donate money if I would not shave my head.”
Funds raised at the first event helped pay for the out-of-pocket expenses that arose during the Whiteheads’ cancer journey.
“Logan’s first stay in the hospital was 84 days,” Whitehead said. “We left for about 30 hours and then returned for another 83-day stay,” he said. “It was during these times that they helped carry my family.”
Firemen fixed supper for the family and delivered it to the hospital, goodie baskets were made and shifts were covered so that Whitehead could be with his family. “I truly learned the meaning of being a brotherhood during these times when we were not sure how long my son would live.”
Good From Bad
There was one moment in particular that sticks in Whitehead’s mind, several weeks into his son’s treatment, when Logan was placed in the ICU. He was sure nothing good would come from the pediatric cancer experience.
Little did he know, his son would one day become well enough to start attending a summer camp for pediatric patients, then called Camp Smile-A-Mile. There Logan met and became friends with another cancer survivor named Hannah.
Logan and Hannah Whitehead were married in January 2018 near Camp Smile-A-Mile in a ceremony at Church in the Pines in Alexander City.
“It was at this time that God brought back to me what I had told him beside Logan’s bedside many years before,” Whitehead said. “If Logan and Hannah both had not had cancer, their paths more than likely would have never crossed.”
The couple was told they probably wouldn’t be able to have children, due to their treatments. Yet, their first daughter will turn one Dec. 3, and Whitehead will be welcoming his second grandchild in 2020.
Logan, now 24, is a firefighter with Homewood Fire Department and continues to maintain a connection with Smile-A-Mile as a volunteer. When he wanted to find a way to raise money for SAM, the Mountain Brook and Homewood fire departments made the organization the beneficiary of this year’s Shave-a-Firefighters.
Whitehead sees SAM’s camp program as an integral part of his son’s childhood, giving his son a camp experience that was safe as well as supportive.
“It is a place where they are all the same and all the kids that are there have or have had cancer,” he said. “They can talk and share with each other about how they feel and about what they are going through.”
SAM has since grown exponentially, providing year-round programming for patients and their families at Smile-A-Mile Place in Birmingham. The SAM staff feel fortunate to have Logan and Hannah remain actively involved members of the SAM family.
SAM Chief Operating Officer Kellie Reece, who has known the couple for nearly their entire lives, became ordained in order to marry the couple.
“It is encouraging for parents new to the childhood cancer journey to see young adults, like Logan and Hannah, who have overcome a cancer diagnosis as children and are thriving with families and careers of their own,” Reece said. “They also serve as incredible role models for current participants and can relate to them and their situation like no one else.”
The many lows that occurred throughout the Whitehead family’s cancer journey are outshined by the victories small and large since.
“Most of the time, children look up to their parents and want to be just like them,” Whitehead said. “The kids look to inspiration from the parents. I want you to know that Logan is the one who inspires me. He has gone through so much in his life and yet has the most love in his heart. He is a fine young man that we are so proud of.”
To donate, visit the “Mbff Local” Facebook page.