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Attorney will shave head in honor of son

Jennifer Nelson
February 23, 2010
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An attorney hopes people will ask her why she's bald. She's shaving her head next month to raise money for childhood cancer research.

Briget Polichene Chamness is going to shave her brown locks in celebration of the fifth anniversary of her son, Joey, being cancer free. Joey was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, in January 2005 when he was eight years old. He had a year of chemotherapy at Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis and surgery to remove the tumor in New York City.

Around that time, her husband learned of St. Baldrick's Foundation, a nonprofit that raises money for childhood cancer research by hosting worldwide head-shaving events. The foundation funds more in childhood cancer research than any other organization except the U.S. government.

Since her son got sick, Chamness said her husband and other family members have shaved their heads, some every year. Even her teenage daughter did it once. She said she's partly shaving her head out of empathy for the young girls she saw losing their hair because of chemotherapy.

"I'm trying to think of it as my gosh, here I am a 50-year-old woman who's not sick, and I'm apprehensive for losing my hair," she said. "It makes me empathetic."

Shaving her head will also open her up to questions from strangers who don't know why she's bald. She'll be wearing headscarves and knows that when people see women who have lost their hair, it's often assumed they are sick.

"St. Baldrick's recognizes that in the case of women, and they give you a big button to wear that says "Ask me why I'm bald," she said.

To raise money for the head-shaving event, Chamness sent e-mails to her college and law school classmates, friends in Indianapolis and Washington, D.C., where she worked before moving to Indiana, and professional colleagues. Chamness first worked at as chief counsel at the Indiana Department of Insurance after moving here. She later practiced at Baker & Daniels and was chief privacy officer at Conseco before joining Citigroup's government relations group, where she works as the liaison between businesses and state lobbyists.

Most people raising money for St. Baldrick's just take pledges and will shave their head no matter what, but some do say that they will only do it if they hit a certain goal. Chamness decided she'd shave her head without a specific dollar amount in mind, although she had a goal of $5,000. She's surpassed that and is up to $7,300. She's part of a team named after Joey, which has 35 people who will shave their heads. The team has raised nearly $40,000, she said.

Everyone will have their heads shaved at the same time on stage at the Northside Knights of Columbus in Indianapolis at 6:30 p.m. March 12. There will be food, beer, and a band playing as well, Chamness said.

She'd like to see more people donate to the cause because of the work St. Baldrick's does. She hopes no one has to go through what she has with her son, but because of his illness, recognizes how wonderful Riley Hospital is. Riley often receives research grants from St. Baldrick's.

"It's a great resource, and I hope that the legal community will continue to be supportive of it in various ways," she said.

Visit Chamness' team's web page, if you'd like more information about St. Baldrick's or want to donate.

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