March 24, 2014 at 4:00 PM
NORTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – When Matt Hannon was born he seemed like any other boy, but soon his parents Chris and Keri learned their newborn had a rare form of cancer called Ewing sarcoma. The disease threatened the boy’s life, and expectations were he might not live five years. When Matt was just one year old doctors had to remove his left arm to prevent the spread of the disease, and he’s had to manage his life with one arm ever since.
Seven years later Matt is cancer-free and participating in the annual St. Baldrick’s event having his head shaved to raise money to conquer other kids’ cancers. The event, hosted by the North Plainfield Fire Fighters Unions in their parking bay on Lincoln Avenue, accepts donations for research into cures for childhood cancer. Participants shave their heads in return for donations in solidarity with children who lost their hair to chemotherapy.
“I wanted to do this for kids with cancer,” said Matt. “And shaved my head for kids like me.”
Matt was the top fundraiser on the South Plainfield Fire Department Team, bringing in more than $1100 in donations online and more in person. All told the team raised more than $3,500.
The North Plainfield event has raised over $600,000 to conquer childhood cancer over the years, and hope to pass a million dollars in the next few years. St. Baldrick’s uses the funds from this and other events to make grants for research that is reviewed ahead of time to ensure it is promising and has the potential to make a difference. Recently they also added funding for programs geared towards the lifelong challenges survivors face including loss of limbs like Matt lives with every day, blindness and developmental delays.
Matt's father Chris said his family had been raising money with the the South Plainfield Fire Departments’ team for the past five years, but up until now no one in the family had been shaved at the event. This year Matt announced he was going to step up.
“He came to me and said he wanted to shave his head this year,” said Chris, proudly rubbing his boy's new buzz cut. “He decided to do it in honor of a friend from Piscataway who recently passed away.”
When event organizer and North Plainfield Fire Captain Rob Beattie introduced Matt to the crowd of more than 200 people in the small parking bay they exploded in applause, and a few hands surreptitiously wiped tears from eyes. When Matt stood up fifteen minutes later with his newly shaved head the crowd erupted again and a big smile broke out on his face.
Matt’s older brothers Nick and Justin came along to show support, and were impressed by what they saw. When asked if they would shave their heads next year Nick quickly said he would but Justin put his hand to his hair and shook his head in mock horror.
Chris smiled said, “Justin says he won’t, but he might change his mind. Maybe the whole family will.”