Looking like a little princess in yellow polka dots and pink tulle, a sparkling tiara perched on her head, two-year-old Alex Doyle happily chased bubbles and handed out lollipops at Sharkey’s Cuts for Kids.
It was hard to imagine that for the past eight months the inquisitive toddler with sparkling eyes has been fighting for her life. The Mount Pleasant youngster was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia on July 2, 2011, and has since undergone more than 700 procedures at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton. After a three-month stint in hospital, two months in isolation, Alex continues to travel to McMaster for twice weekly treatments.
The expenses incurred during Alex’s illness have taken a toll on her mother, Melissa Doyle, and father, Jamie Armstrong. To help them through the coming two-years of chemotherapy, radiation and subsequent treatments to fight Alex’s cancer, Sharkey’s Cuts for Kids is donating one dollar from every haircut in March to help defray costs. “The burden isn’t so much the diagnosis, it’s everything that comes along with it,” Sharkey’s owner Susan McLellan said. “I think as a community we can do a lot to help local families that are suffering. We know that cancer does not discriminate. It takes a team, not just of doctors, but of family and friends to help people through it.” McLellan should know. She lost her nine-year-old son, Miles, to brain cancer five years ago.
“We have now become ambassadors of children with cancer in the community,” she said. “The out-of-pocket expenses families face are huge, like gas, parking and meals. And there are many medications that are not covered. There are a lot of people that don’t understand the costs involved.”
Sharkey’s is also selling handcrafted jewelry by Paige Elshaw, who is offering 100 per cent of the proceeds to Alex’s cause. The support has been invaluable to Alex’s mom, who recently completed studies at McMaster to become a registered nurse. “(McLellan’s) bravery, to be able to keep going after losing her son, gives me hope,” Doyle said. “For her to be able to embrace us the way she has and be so open means a lot.”
McLellan opened Sharkey’s Cuts for Kids in Miles’ memory so other families can take time to celebrate their children’s milestones. “We live in a fast-paced society and we tend to take these milestones for granted,” she said, with tears welling in her eyes. “I really wanted something special that celebrates the birthdays and the first haircuts because it is the beginning of many more milestones.” Youngsters can sit in a Barbie jeep, a Thomas the Tank Engine or a race car while watching kid-friendly programs as they get their hair cut. Older children can play video games or watch the latest movie release.
A party room has large make-up mirrors, where young girls can get a hairdo and manicure before dressing up in their choice of gown and going on stage to sing karaoke. “Miles loved karaoke,” McLellan said. “He loved to dress up and before he passed away he wanted to be on Canadian Idol. So this sort of allows him to be here through spirit.”
McLellan said childhood cancer takes a financial and emotional toll on parents, so she is doing what she can to help. With dwindling funds, Doyle must return to work in April, but is having difficulty finding appropriate daycare to meet Alex’s continuing medical needs.
“The supports aren’t there, but there is no other option except social assistance and that won’t pay my bills,” she said. “Everything is just one day at a time.”
For more information about Sharkey’s fundraising campaign visit 325 King George Rd., call 519-750-0075 or visit www.sharkeyscutsforkids.com.