When their 2-year-old daughter was complaining of a stomach ache on Saturday, April 14, Aaron and Erin Anderson weren’t concerned. Two-year-olds get tummy aches. When Haven didn’t have a bowel movement, they took the doctor’s advice over the phone and fed her prune juice and applejuice.
But her stomach continued hurting through Tuesday, when the couple had Aaron’s mother, Haven’s part-time babysitter, take her to the pediatrician. After the pediatrician found a mass in Haven’s abdomen and sent her to Sky Ridge Medical Center for further testing, the Andersons received devastating news.
“The radiologist came out and said, ‘I’m sorry to tell you but your daughter has cancer and (the cancer is) all over.…’” Erin told your Catholic Herald in a telephone interview from Colorado, where the family has lived since 2007.
She and Aaron were in disbelief, and Haven’s two older, protective brothers, Ryder, 10, and Cash, 6, took the news hard.
“It’s just not something that you ever think your 2-year-old could possibly have, but, unfortunately, she was one of the ones that got it,” Erin said. “So, (it was) very devastating, unbelievable and very frightening.”
New lesions develop
The Andersons received another blow in mid-September after Haven’s tests revealed two new lesions on her spine that contained neroblastoma tissue, despite the shrinking tumors and cancer tissue elsewhere.
Get your head shaved to help Haven Anderson and raise money for cancer research – and maybe set the Guinness World Record – at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 21, in the Brookfield Soccer Complex, 19485 W. Lisbon Road, Brookfield at www.worldrecordshave.com.
Registration is $25 and includes T-shirt.
“She did relapse two weeks ago, so her cancer just started growing again during treatment, so we are flying to San Francisco Nov. 5 to begin clinical trials for experimental treatments for her cancer,” Erin said, describing Haven as a marine in a 2-year-old’s body.
“She just does it and it’s hard sometimes, but she gets through it and she takes it better than probably any of us would take it,” Erin said. “So, she is doing well.”
Family, friends organize fundraiser
The cancer diagnosis is what prompted Erin’s extended family and friends, several of whom are parishioners at St. Mary Parish, Hales Corners, to organize a fundraiser on Sunday, Oct. 21 inviting people to “Be Brave and Shave for a Cure,” to raise money and break the Guinness World Record of Most Heads Shaved in an Hour by a Team. Ireland set the record of 318 heads shaved in an hour by a team of 10 in February 2011.
Katie Ryan Pluer, a friend of Erin’s since they met as freshman at Whitnall High School in Greenfield, said the group wanted to do something local because of the family’s strong ties to the city and parish; Erin’s family still resides in the state, and Erin not only attended Our Lady Queen of Peace School through sixth grade, and Blessed Sacrament School in seventh and eighth, but her children were baptized at St. Mary, her former home parish.
“When we decided to do this Guinness event, we wanted to do something that would have a wide reach and involve a lot of people in the Milwaukee area … we wanted to do something a little out of the box,” Ryan Pluer said of the event inspired by a “Shavin for Haven” event held in May at Chaparral High School in Parker, Colo., where Erin teaches ninth and tenth grade science classes – 21 fellow teachers, and Erin, shaved their heads for Haven, raising $22,000.
All of the proceeds raised through donations and people’s $25 registrations to either have their heads shaved, or to get a pink hair extension, will benefit Haven’s family and Curesearch for Children’s Cancer, a national non-profit foundation whose mission is to fund and support children’s cancer research and provide information and resources to all those affected by children’s cancer.
One head every 90 seconds
As of Monday, Ryan Pluer said about 120 people were registered for the event.
“It turns out to be almost one head every minute and a half, so they’ve got to work at a good clip to get this record,” Ryan Pluer laughed, explaining that proceeds will be split equally between the family and Curesearch, something Erin wanted.
“She said, ‘You know, this is going to be such a great event and I appreciate everything that’s happening for Haven and, of course, we want to find a cure for her, but I want to make this something a little bit bigger,’ and had pointed out the Curesearch because it’s been such a helpful organization for their family,” Ryan Pluer said.
Erin, Ryder and Cash will be in town, making up three of the hoped-for 400 heads being shaved at the event which will be held at 2 p.m. at the Brookfield Soccer Complex, 19485 W. Lisbon Road. Members of her family will also be there to volunteer, have their heads shaved or help in some capacity, acccording to Ryan Pluer.
She said the fundraiser has been a community effort – two friends and co-owners of Roots Salon, Shannon Lopez and Naomi Prusinski, also members of St. Mary, are providing the stylists and Andis Clippers in Sturtevant donated the clippers for hair cutting. Team St. Mary’s, which includes students and adults at the parish and school, is trying to raise $2,500 and Gina Brown, principal at St. Mary School, has been helping spread the message, she said.
According to Brown, 30 people signed up from the school, including parishioners, staff and Fr. Matthew Widder, associate pastor at St. Mary.
Fr. Widder called the effort a way of standing with Haven and those who are battling cancer.
“We’re saying you’re not alone. When one person suffers, we’re all in it together and I hope that’s (a lesson) for the kids in the parish,” he said. “No one goes through this alone.”
Ron Gilles, part-time director of administrative services at St. Mary Parish, will have his head shaved on Oct. 21 even though he doesn’t know the family, and invites others to do the same.
“As Christians, we need to be able to reach out and think of the whole world as our community, not just a small area,” he said.
Family still part of St. Mary community
Even though Haven and her family no longer live in the area, Ryan Pluer stressed they are still part of the St. Mary community.
“She was baptized at St. Mary and she’s a part of our community whether she lives right here or not, and I think that is just such a wonderful way to look at things.”
“When you have a tragedy like this, faith is so important and really I know that she’s been asking for prayers and really feeling the love and the spirit from those who have given her prayers,” she said, noting that her own mother gave Erin a “Hand it over” bracelet that Erin wears every day as a reminder that God is in control.
Lopez, a friend of Erin’s since sophomore year of high school, said Haven was diagnosed two days after she and her business partner held their fifth annual Cuts for a Cause event in April, when they cut hair for contributions of money and hair to donate to organizations like Locks of Love.
“It just made our fundraising a whole lot more personal for us,” she said, and it was another way for them to give back to a friend she described as a ray of sunshine, always placing others before herself, even now.
“People are giving of their money, they’re giving of their time, they’re giving of their hair – it’s just amazing how connected and heavily involved everybody in this event is, and I never, ever tried to break a world record before and I guess that’s why they are world records because it requires a lot,” said Lopez, who’s husband, Milwaukee Police Officer Vincent Lopez III, will shave his head – sparking a challenge in the department – along with their 7- and 2-year-old sons, while she and their 5-year-old daughter will get pink hair extensions.
“It requires the support of a nation, and I feel like we have that with this event,” Lopez said, explaining that people who register to shave their heads will also receive a free T-shirt donated by Eggers Imprints in Mlwaukee.
Family relies on faith
Sharon Schermerhorn, Erin’s mother, who lives in Rome in the Madison Diocese, said she has reminded her daughter to rely on her faith.
“I tell my daughter how fortunate she is because I know there are many mothers and fathers that have very, very sick children and they have no support; they’re doing this on their own, and so I thank God every night for the support that has helped them through this because it really has,” said Schermerhorn, who just returned Oct. 7 from spending two and half weeks helping to watch the boys while Aaron took Haven to the hospital and Erin worked.
While there, a woman approached them before Mass at St. Mark Parish in Highlands Ranch, Colo., the family’s home parish, and presented a quilt for Haven. She asked parishioners to stop by after church to tie a knot in the quilt and say a prayer for her.
“When we left church, there were so many people standing there waiting to tie a knot in this beautiful quilt she made and say a prayer for Havey,” Schermerhorn said. “It was very unexpected, but Erin has gotten so much support from church … from everywhere.”
Prayer is what they need, she said.
“Just if the faith community keep her in their prayers because I don’t know – that’s what’s going to do it,” she said. “If it’s meant to be, it’s prayers that are going to do it, not the medicine necessarily.”