Students tackle cancer

By Вen Li

"We know what adults go through when they get cancer, but to kids who have spent their entire lives in hospital, staying sick with cancer means a lot more. They don’t really know what life is."

Helping those kids through their illness is Irfaan Sorathia’s goal. Along with fellow Providing A Voice Directors Alyssa Dietrich and Jen Longmuir, Sorathia hopes to help fellow students and Calgarians raise over $100,000.

Last year, the then-unnamed fundraiser raised over $30,000 for the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, with hundreds of students filling Scurfield Hall to witness 23 participants getting shaved. Presently, the Haskayne students are preparing for their Fri., Mar. 31 event, raising money for cancer and collecting hair for making wigs.

“Getting wigs for children is important, especially for school age children who have lost hair from chemotherapy, when it’s so important to develop a positive self-image,” said Kristie Clark of the Kids Cancer Care Foundation of Alberta, which will receive the funds raised this year.

Sorathia wants funds raised at this year’s event, which has already enlisted over 60 participants from all over Calgary including SAIT and Mount Royal College, to go to all the KCCFA’s main funding areas.

“There are three areas that we fund: camps for 300 kids every year; childhood oncology research that’s looking for a cure but also less invasive treatments with fewer side effects for children; and support for families of kids with cancer to make their stays at hospital more pleasant,” Clark said. “$100,000 is an amazing amount, about one-fifth of what we raise from head-shaving every year.”

Expanding the event both here in Calgary and via colleagues to Edmonton was a necessity for the organizers after last year’s success.

“We had an overwhelming response last year and we had a ‘go big’ mentality,” Dietrich said. “We thought if we opened it up to the campus and the city, it could just be incredible. We’re pretty confident about our goal. $100,000 is just $1,000 per person.”

For Sorathia, who lost his mother to cancer three years ago, the fundraiser is about more than who can raise the most money. He wants to apply skills he has learned from university to helping children counted among the 140,000 Canadians diagnosed with cancer every year.

“It’s almost greedy thinking about how much money I can raise, but the numbers are my drive, knowing what the money is going toward. Even if we can’t cure cancer, getting a $1,000 heated blanket for one kid for six months is worth it,” he said.

The organizers have devoted themselves to the cause and inspired others to do the same.

University of Calgary Risk Management professor Dr. Anne Kleffner sought a cancer fundraiser last year after hearing about junior-high students shaving their heads. She and two Haskayne colleagues (Drs. Cynthia Simmons and Amy Pablo) joined Sorathia’s fundraiser with personal $1,000 goals. Dr. Kleffner raised $2,300 last year and recalls an overwhelming response from students and staff in Haskayne.

“It was fun for myself and the others who did it. We had even gotten T-shirts made and it was a great event. The level of excitement it generated around here was unreal,” she said. “I was delighted that the students raised as much as they did.”

Dr. Kleffner said the students raised both money and the image of business students.

“Their focus and dedication to helping others speaks to the character of the students,” she said. “Fundraising to benefit not the fundraisers but someone else goes against what stereotypical business students do.”

The organizers all maintain full course loads while planning the event.

“My courses have suffered a bit in terms of time commitment,” said Sorathia. “It’s more like a hobby so it’s not really adding to my plate. I completely enjoy doing it. Answering e-mail past midnight, the time flies–sometimes too well.

“I like doing it because it’s fun. It’s not like a class project, everyone is here because they want to be here.”

Dietrich agreed, adding it is also a learning experience.

“Last year we were quite disorganized and informal. It’s a big task this year even with delegating to other volunteers. This year the web site has been integral as a hub for everything. [Webmaster] Aaron Kroontje did a good job with it, it’s a lot more organized,” she said.

Students’ Union Vice-President Events Richard Bergen, who is also the External Coordinator for the Residence Students’ Association, helped the students relocate the event to MacEwan Students’ Centre and promote it. He will also be shaved.

“They raised $30,000 last year with 30 people in a month. With Shinerama, we raised $15,000 with 100 volunteers. The amount of organization, student input and backing they have in it shown by these guys is amazing,” he said.

Clark is both thankful and grateful for the students’ efforts.

“It’s not even a matter of their $100,000 goal, it’s their ability to inspire other people to good work in the community,” said Clark.

For more information, to register or to sponsor participants, visit