The people of Chisasibi have vowed to fight cancer and they took the first step towards that when doctors, nurses and locals got together to raise money and awareness for teenagers suffering from the disease.

“The fundraiser was done for the On the Tip of the Toes Foundation that benefits teenagers who are fighting cancer,” said Dr. Stephanie Ferland, who was instrumental in launching the campaign April 28. “It’s called that because when you’re on the tip of your toes you can always see a little bit farther.”

The idea came from a nurse working for Cree Patient Services. “Jasmine Larouche’s niece was dealing with cancer and she participated in that big shave-o-thon last year in Montreal,” said Dr. Ferland. “She convinced us basically to help that foundation.”

The Marie-Hélène Côté fundraiser is named after Larouche’s niece, who died from cancer a few years ago, and couldn’t have got off the ground without the support of the community.

“I may have been the one that initiated it, but I had a lot of help,” Dr. Ferland told the Nation. “Without Brighter Future’s Nelly Bobbish, who did a big amount of work in organizing all the events, it would not have happened. She organized the setup, and Brighter Future was there every afternoon for a week, collecting money at the commercial centre, and advertising. They did a great job.”

The hefty sum of $8,000 raised in only a week will help the foundation send sick kids on trips to many different places across Canada. One of those trips a couple years ago brought the children to Ouje-Bougoumou where they experienced the warmth and beauty of Eeyou Istchee’s newest community.

The event, held at the commercial centre, included music, a stylist and a hair clipper. In all, 25 heads were shaved in support of cancer patients.

“It’s just hair,” said Melanie Lameboy, 19. “There was no hesitation at all on my part when I heard about it. I said, ‘I’m doing it and that’s it’. There are a lot of reasons why I did it, including a few personal reasons.

“When I heard what the foundation was about, I thought it was a very good cause for teenagers, kids my age that have the disease. There were no other girls from the community that did it and that made me want to do it even more.”

Dr. Ferland, who has been in Chisasibi for almost three years, says the attitude towards cancer is encouraging. “This year on the territory it was the first year that we had screening for breast cancer, and we hear about it on the radio and in newspapers and more and more we hear about it.”

She says she tries to sensitize people to the disease. “We are dealing with cancer and everybody has a member of their family who has cancer. People care about the youth and they know it’s very important to support something like this.”

Dr. Ferland really believes in the foundation and is hoping to do something similar next year. “There are big organizations, telethons like Enfant Soleil and Jeunesse au Soleil that are very nice but often you don’t see where the money’s going. You don’t see very concrete things. But for this organization it’s different.”

Lameboy was encouraged to get involved by her mom, who is a nurse.

“My mom told me about it and she supported me all the way,” she said. “When all my hair was on the floor and people were clapping, she came to me and hugged me and told me how proud she was of me.”

When Lameboy was asked if she’d shave her head again next year she replied: “I would, without a doubt. Shaving your head changes you inside a lot more than people think. I feel like I gave so little for what it brought to me. I walk with my head up high and I’m more confident and proud. When people look at me and see what I’ve done it gives them a glimpse into who I really am.

“This was the least that I could do to help sick teenagers feel good about themselves again and not look at cancer like the end, but more like something to live with and cope with. I wanted to show them that they can accomplish a lot of things even with the disease.”