Campus, hair clippers and Cool Whip come together to support cancer research

Ask Me Why I'm Bald

On Feb. 10, first-year DMU students Jonathan Pickos and Iaswarya “Ice” Ganapathiraju experienced something rare and wonderful amid the stress of medical school: They threw a pie at the face of their anatomy professor, Muhammad Spocter, Ph.D.

The two tossed the pie together to end their bidding war for the honor, paying a total of $300. The faculty pie auction, which left a dozen DMU faculty plastered with Cool Whip, was a new element in the University’s St. Baldrick’s Day, in its third year of raising funds for St. Baldrick’s Foundation and childhood cancer research.

Professor Muhhamad Spocter gets pied at St. Baldrick's Day.
Jonathon Pickos, Muhammad Spocter and Ice Ganapathiraju get “pied” for a good cause.

The pie auction was the brainchild of Reeya Patel, D.O.’18, first-year liaison and one of three community outreach chairs of DMU’s Student Osteopathic Medical Association (SOMA), the lead campus organization in organizing the event.

“One of my favorite things about DMU is our small community culture, which allows for great interaction between students and faculty,” says Patel, now SOMA president. “When planning the pie auction, I honestly thought we would raise $100 at best. I was absolutely shocked when we raised $1,150.”

That was part of the nearly $18,830 raised, most of which came from its traditional feature: participants who raise funds by offering to have their heads shaved as a statement of solidarity with cancer-struck kids. This year 29 individuals gave up their tresses, raising cash in teams such as the top fundraiser, the physician assistant Class of 2016 Skin to Win!, which generated $2,785.

“We were happy to see students from programs other than the College of Osteopathic Medicine participate,” says SOMA President Tanya Hioe, D.O.’17. She also praised members of the Pediatrics Club, Oncology Club and American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians, who also helped with the event, and the 29 local businesses and other organizations that served as sponsors.

A DMU student lops off her long locks for cancer research.
Students lopped off locks or lost them altogether on the annual St. Baldrick’s Day.

“Seeing everyone happy and enjoy the event, be thrilled about how much we raised for St. Baldrick’s Foundation and be captivated by the stories of our honored family guests made it one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had,” Hioe adds.

Those guests included Lincoln Todd, age two and a half, and his mother, Jessie, from Johnston, IA. Before Lincoln celebrated his first birthday, he’d had 45 blood transfusions, 60 platelet transfusions, chemotherapy and a splenectomy due to Langerhans cell histiocytosis, a rare type of cancer that can damage tissue or cause lesions.

Jessie was happy to speak at St. Baldrick’s Day because she and her husband, Jeremy, had learned from Lincoln’s oncologist how little funding for cancer research goes to investigate childhood cancers. She shared with students the importance of questioning conditions, such as Lincoln’s early skin lesions, that don’t respond to treatment.

“Although we learn about the medical and scientific aspects of cancer in classroom lectures,” Hioe says, “it is these moments that help draw us back to the human aspect of the illness and try to understand the realities these families face when their child is diagnosed with cancer.”

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