As a child, family night for Anthony George often meant sitting around the television with his parents and sister to watch the Sabres. They’d talk and bond while rooting for Gilbert Perreault and the French Connection.
Cancer ruined that. George’s father and sister succumbed to the disease, putting an end to the meaningful get-togethers.
A good thing came from the terrible ordeal, however. George founded “Goin’ Bald for Bucks” during his sister’s third fight with cancer, and the fundraiser has generated more than $2.1 million for Roswell Park Cancer Institute. More than $13,000 came in Monday courtesy of George’s favorite hockey team and its fans.
Five Buffalo players – Cody Hodgson, Mike Weber, Alex Sulzer, Mark Pysyk and Brayden McNabb – had their heads shaved in the First Niagara Center atrium. They all eclipsed their goal of bringing in $1,000 in donations, and Hodgson has pledged to match the grand total.
“The Sabres have really been part of my family growing up,” George said. “Unfortunately, my sister and father both passed away due to cancer, but it’s good to know the Sabres are part of the family still, and they’re there supporting us in our fight.”
While the funds are great and needed, George says the attention the Sabres will bring to the cause is more important. Fans can get a look at the haircuts tonight when the Sabres host the Florida Panthers.
“Unfortunately, the diseases are my best recruiter,” said George, a Lake Shore High School history teacher. “But with the Sabres on board, who knows where it can go from here. They’re a big part of our community. They mean a great deal to Western New York, and here they are helping to support Western New York’s premier hospital.”
The players are offering solidarity to patients suffering from cancer. Chemotherapy causes them to lose their hair, and now they know they aren’t alone. More than 50 people joined George in watching the Sabres’ locks flutter to the ground.
“We appreciate your donations, we appreciate your support and we appreciate you guys being here,” Weber said.
The barbers – teammates Ryan Miller, Steve Ott, John Scott, Drew Stafford and Brian Flynn – created funky looks and a little pain with their electric clippers.
Miller went straight down the middle of Hodgson’s head. It was sort of a reverse Mohawk cut that reminded the goaltender of Krusty the Clown from “The Simpsons.”
“We need a better hair cutter than Brian,” Pysyk said. “I think I’m bleeding.”
The defenseman also said his head was cold, but a child from the program helped that by handing out ballcaps that read “Believe” with the letters “l-i-v-e” in bold.
“It’s not just about getting a haircut,” Hodgson said. “It’s about raising awareness and finally getting rid of this disease.
“Do it,” was the center’s advice to anyone thinking of joining the cause: “Get your relatives, get your family, get your friends. Everybody get behind you and make it fun. It’s fun for us, and it would be fun for you guys.”
George knows from experience that the head shaving can make a difference. His sister, Cathleen, was in her early 30s when she battled cancer. She was self-conscious about her hair loss and usually covered her head with a hat or scarf. That changed after Anthony shaved his head to match hers.
“When they give you chemo, they usually give you steroids beforehand to boost your immune system, so she’d have a period of maybe a day where she had a lot of energy,” George said. “We’d go shopping. She was cheap, so we’d always go to the dollar store in Hamburg. I remember we walked in, and I took my hat off and was bald, and she took her hat off. She had never done that before.
“She was not uncomfortable being bald in public because I was bald in public. That right there told me that I need to keep doing this, and I’ve got to get other people to do it.
“Thankfully, I don’t know what it’s like to have to struggle for your life with a disease like that. But having to struggle for your life on top of everyone looking at you and feeling like you’re the oddball, to at least make them not feel like the oddball is a major accomplishment. That’s what got it going, and that’s what keeps driving me to keep doing it.”