SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

July 3, 2013

A gift from the heart

Peabody school board member donates hair for kids with cancer

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — School Committee member Beverley Griffin Dunne has a whole new look and a moving story to go with it.

She might have surprised observers at a meeting last month on the new Higgins Middle School when she appeared without her familiar flowing curls. Rather, her black hair had been cut quite short. And while the change gave her a stylish look, it was not done as a matter of fashion.

“I donated my hair,” she said. “I donated it to Pantene Beautiful Lengths and their free wigs for children.” She choose Pantene, she said, because the company bears the entire cost of providing the wigs, taking nothing for expenses.

Donating her hair is something Griffin Dunne wants to talk about, “because I’d like to encourage other people to do it,” she said.

She decided to make the donation after seeing so many kids with cancer who had lost their hair during cancer treatments.

“I could tell they once had curly hair,” she said.

Lots of kids can hide the damage with wigs that leave them looking a lot like they looked before, Griffin Dunne said. But curly-haired kids have a problem because curls are hard to come by for wig makers.

“And my hair is very, very curly,” she said.

Griffin Dunne, who narrowly lost the April special election for state representative, came by her interest in kids with cancer six years ago, after dealing with the devastating news that her own son, Brian, then 17, had cancer.

“He noticed a lump,” she said. “We took him to the doctor not knowing what it was.”

It was the beginning of a long, tough battle with cancer, one that impacted the entire Dunne family.

At Boston Children’s Hospital, Brian learned he had cancer of the soft tissue. He woke up from an exploratory procedure expressing confidence that he could beat it.

“It’s a very rare children’s cancer,” his mother said.

With his dad at his side, Brian urged her to go to the School Committee meeting scheduled for that night. Instead, she headed for home, missing the gathering for one of only three times in her career. (She missed another meeting when husband, Bob, a federal investigator and Naval Reservist, returned from Iraq.)

Griffin Dunne remembers thinking, “I have to tell the girls (Brian’s three sisters).”

As the days passed, she came to realize that the family lived in the right place.

“Luckily, one of the world’s leading experts on this type of cancer (Dr. Holcombe Grier) is in Boston.”

Brian underwent a full year of radiation and therapy. Meanwhile, the entire family was introduced to a whole new world of children suffering with cancer. Griffin Dunne nearly loses her composure describing what it was like to sit in the waiting room at Dana Farber Cancer Institute, “and you’re seeing these little kids — beautiful little faces. And bald.”

Some lost their hair enduring grueling chemotherapy or radiation treatments. But Griffin Dunne came to believe that for many, the loss of their hair was the hardest thing they endured, making them feel like outcasts. She resolved to do something about it. Thus, while she was working as an attorney in private practice, helping the school board present the case for building a new Higgins Middle School and running for state representative in a special election, her hair continued to grow over her shoulders and down her back.

It took four years before her hair was long enough.

“It takes so long to grow,” she said. “But when I do something, I dedicate myself to it.”

Finally, Doreen Gravalese of Charisma cut 8 inches for delivery to Pantene. Griffin Dunne expects it will be combined with someone else’s donation to make a curly wig. Pantene works with the American Cancer Society, and those looking to donate hair can call 877-227-1596, she said.

Brian, now 23 and cancer-free, has graduated from Norwich University in Vermont, where he majored in criminal justice.

“He’s the third-highest ranking cadet in the corps of cadets,” said his mother. “He made the dean’s list three times.”

Kids treated at Dana Farber get a lot of attention, including from the Red Sox. The kids are taken to ballgames and provided with all the treats.

“Red Sox players will just come and talk to people,” Griffin Dunne said. “It’s just amazing what the Red Sox do for the Jimmy Fund.”

Which is well and good. But giving a young child back her curly hair is an extraordinary gift and one that can only come from a few extraordinary people.

Staff writer Alan Burke can be reached at aburke@salemnews.com