ROANOKE, Va. (AP) — The 4-year-old cried when his hair was shaved. It had been dark, like his father’s.
But two days later, Tyler Shannon was proudly showing off his bare head, surrounded by dozens of his father’s colleagues. They had the same new hairstyle.
Tyler, son of Roanoke Fire-EMS firefighter and medic Trevor Shannon, was recently diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a form of eye cancer that most commonly affects young children. He had his head shaved Dec. 13 after experiencing hair loss from chemotherapy, which he began at the end of November.
On Dec. 15, more than 130 firefighters from the Roanoke Valley stopped by Roanoke Fire-EMS Station 6 to get matching cuts.
“Me and Trevor’s captain got together and said, ‘If little man is going to lose his hair, we should support him,’ ” 1st Lt. J.J. Price said. “We can’t help him go through chemo, so we thought this was the best way to support him.”
Price’s idea soon became “Trims for Tyler,” and word spread quickly over social media.
“Most people don’t realize that we spend more time with the people we work with than we do with our own families,” Price said. “We’re a very, very tight-knit group, and when anything affects one member of our family, everyone steps up and helps out.”
Tyler was diagnosed with retinoblastoma on Nov. 22 and started chemotherapy three days later. His mother, Jenn Shannon, said Tyler will likely remain on chemotherapy for about six months. He’s been lucky so far and has not experienced symptoms associated with the cancer, she said.
“We caught it early with a routine eye exam — an exam that I had been told to cancel several times,” said Shannon, who is a teacher at Salem High School. “(The doctors) feel like they have a good chance of curing it. As of the last exam, there’s a 90 percent chance of saving the vision in his left eye.”
Though the cancer is in both eyes, there has not yet been any threat to Tyler’s vision in his right eye, Shannon said.
The family travels to the University of Virginia every 28 days so that Tyler can receive chemotherapy. They’ll be there on Christmas Eve but hope to make it back to their Salem home before the holiday.
Jenn Shannon said Tyler is “all boy” and loves sports and superheros. He doesn’t exactly understand what his disease is but has started announcing that he’s going to “kick cancer in the face.”
Trevor Shannon said it was emotional to see his firefighter family supporting his son.
“It helps carry us along,” he said. “We can worry about taking care of Tyler and our family, and not have to worry about all the other small things.”
Trevor Shannon has been a firefighter for 10 years and has been with Station 6 for about four.
“I’ve seen people from other Roanoke Valley fire departments here as well, and that’s what it’s all about,” Trevor Shannon said. “And not just for Tyler. Spreading childhood cancer awareness is going to lead to bigger and better things.”
Firefighters took turns shaving each other’s heads on Dec. 15, and while many didn’t have much hair to lose, others said goodbye to a few inches. A couple of 6-year-old boys joined in with the hopes of looking like their fathers.
Jenn Shannon said she was overwhelmed with the turnout but not surprised.
“The fire department is definitely a brotherhood, and this shows that,” Jenn Shannon said. “When my husband was in recruit school, they used the word ‘ohana,’ which means family. If I had one word to some this up, it’s ohana.”
Information from: The Roanoke Times, http://www.roanoke.com