The gym at AC Houghton Elementary School turned into a hair salon Monday night.
Everyone walked away with the same haircut: a shaved head. The look matches the one Brayden Locey, 13, is sporting as he goes through chemotherapy.
The Irrigon seventh-grader was diagnosed with leukemia in January, sending him up to the Seattle Children’s Hospital for the next six to eight months. Randy Akers, a family friend, was talking with Brayden’s grandfather, Jim Gordanier, when Gordanier told him he planned to shave his head to show his support for his grandson.
“I said, you know what? Let’s make this an event,” Akers said.
Hairstylists from Trimmers and Bronze Expressions of Hermiston volunteered their time, the elementary school where Gordanier works as a custodian volunteered the venue, and Akers issued an open invitation on Facebook for anyone who wanted to get their head shaved in solidarity.
Gordanier was first in the hot seat as the live-streamed event started. He took the loss of his hair stoically, and afterward joked it had been a bad day to forget his hat. But a cold head was a small price to pay to help Brayden feel better about the loss of his ample locks.
“He was pretty prideful of his hair. It was a big deal to him,” Gordanier said. “I’m supporting him any way I can.”
He said watching his grandson go through cancer treatment was the hardest thing he had ever done in his life.
Brayden is part of a large, close-knit family in Irrigon that has helped him through his diagnosis and the beginning of treatment, but Gordanier said the family, in return, has been helped greatly by the support of the community. More than 400 people showed up to a spaghetti feed fundraiser over the weekend and there have been sports tournaments and other fundraising efforts for the family as well.
“People are donating food, gas cards, money — it’s unbelievable how the community has come together,” he said. “It makes you proud to live here.”
Gordanier’s brother, Dan Gordanier, was up next. After the stylist was done running the clippers over his head, he pulled his beanie back over his head and was surprised to find the new stubble across his scalp caught on the hat and made it hard to pull on.
“It’s so different,” he said, running his hand over his head in wonder.
Akers and several other men also got their heads shaved, telling Brayden through the camera of a phone being passed around that “This is for you, man!” and “I don’t got much but it’s all coming off!”
A few of Brayden’s school friends also sacrificed their hair. Austin Wells sat quietly, grinning, as the stylist ran the clippers over his scalp.
“It feels weird,” he said as he patted his head after.
He said he did it for Brayden because Brayden is his friend. He described Brayden as athletic — playing football, baseball and basketball at Irrigon Junior Senior High School — and as a 49ers and Oregon Ducks fan.
“He has really good taste in football,” Austin said.
While no girls or women got their heads shaved, a handful did put neon orange streaks in their hair on Monday night after the head-shaving was over. Just like breast cancer is represented by a pink ribbon, leukemia’s color is orange.
Brayden was actually asleep during the livestream, as the day’s chemotherapy had exhausted him. But his mother, Tiffany Locey, was watching live, thanking each person in the comments, and said after the event was over that he had just woken up and started watching the video.
Locey said Brayden had always had a “gorgeous” head of hair, so losing it was tough for him. But she said it was incredible watching others give up their own hair voluntarily to support him.
“It’s mind-boggling that we mean that much to that many people, that they would take that step,” she said.
Locey is staying up in Seattle with Brayden full time while his dad and siblings travel back and forth on weekends. She said she doesn’t have the words to describe what the support from Irrigon, as well as people in Stanfield, Hermiston and surrounding areas, has meant to Brayden and the rest of the family.
“It’s been insane, and we are truly grateful,” she said.
For those wishing to donate to the Locey family, a bank account in their name has been set up at Bank of Eastern Oregon.