The Star-Herald

Planet Head Day raises awareness, funds for local patients

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Over 40 community members gathered at the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s Wieden Hall Gymnasium on Saturday, March 10, for what has become the largest fundraiser in Aroostook County dedicated to helping area cancer patients.

The 12th annual Planet Head Day initially raised $10,000, but organizers said that they expect to receive several thousand more when the total donations are counted within a few weeks.  All the funds raised go to the nonprofit Caring Area Neighbors for Cancer Education and Recovery, also known as C-A-N-C-E-R. The organization assists cancer patients and their families with expenses that arise from medical treatment, travel and other needs.

“In the past we’ve provided someone with tires so that they could make the trip to Bangor for appointments, as well as meals for families of patients who are in treatment and unable to cook,” Susan Black, secretary for the C-A-N-C-E-R board of directors, said. “We take care of any need that isn’t already covered by another agency and work with what people need as a family.”

Planet Head Day originated when Jeanie McGowen, former coordinator of collections for the Northern Maine Museum of Science at UMPI, had connected with C-A-N-C-E-R during her own illness.

Twelve years ago, the museum had obtained a grant from NASA to support local astronomy education. McGowen suggested to Kevin McCartney, UMPI professor of geology and director of the Northern Maine Museum of Science, that she have her head painted as the planet Jupiter as a teaching tool for children. McCartney replied that he could have his own head shaved and painted as Pluto and the first Planet Head Day was born. McGowen lost her battle with breast cancer in 2016.

Past Planet Head Days have raised nearly $150,000 for C-A-N-C-E-R and participation has grown from five shaved heads in the first year to over 1,000 individuals total who have donated time and money to wear their favorite planet or dwarf planet on their head for a good cause.

“My mother volunteered at Planet Head Day every year for the first 10 years. When she first lost her hair, she got the idea to use her bald head as a teaching tool,” said McGowen’s daughter, Kathryn Maynard, who volunteered as a head painter at this year’s Planet Head Day with her family.

Throughout the event individuals could choose to either have their head shaved by staff members from Great Beginnings Hair Boutique or wear a bald cap before selecting their planet. The bald “planet heads” were painted in honor of cancer patients who have lost hair during the treatment process.

Many community members had their heads painted in honor of family and friends who have experienced cancer. Holly Hancock of Limestone had her head shaved and painted as Planet Earth and dedicated her contributions to one of her aunts, who passed away from stage four pancreatic cancer last year.

“The C-A-N-C-E-R network is a community network and I feel that this is one thing that I can do to help those who are suffering with cancer,” Hancock said.

Peggy Gudreau attended Planet Head Day for the fifth year and had her head painted as Venus in honor of a friend who lost the battle to cancer.

“I wanted to support the cause because the money stays in the area and helps local patients,” Gudreau said.

This year’s Planet Head Day had an international component, as academics and administrators from the University of Szczecin in Szczecin, Poland, where McCartney completed a Fulbright research fellowship during the 2016-2017 academic year, held their own fundraiser simultaneously.

The two Planet Head Days were broadcast across the globe via video conferencing and began with academic and community leaders from both Aroostook County and Szczecin serving as the first honorary “planet heads” of the day.

McCartney traveled to Poland for the event in Szczecin, which raised funds for the renovation of a children’s hospital in the city, and provided an introduction to UMPI participants in English. Tomasz Herzog, UMPI professor of social studies education, who is from Poland, provided the Polish introduction to those in Szczecin.

“I had my head shaved in Szczecin last year as my contribution to the event here in Maine and we had a little fundraiser there with 40 people showing up through word of mouth,” McCartney said, before traveling to Poland on March 7. “I think my colleagues in Poland saw the potential and have now taken enthusiastically to the idea of Planet Head Day.”

Event organizer and member of the Aroostook County/UMPI Astronomy Club Jim Stepp believes that the ongoing popularity of Planet Head Day has much to do with how it combines science education and cancer awareness with community service.

“It gets the local community involved with an event that raises money while also being fun,” said Stepp, who had his head shaved and painted as Mars in honor of his mother’s battle with breast cancer.

Those who did not attend Planet Head Day can send donations to C-A-N-C-E-R at P.O. Box 811, Presque Isle, Maine 04769.

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