Hair art for breast cancer awareness

Jessica Mangili

Organizations like the NFL are wearing pink and people are wearing “I (heart) Boobies” T-shirts this October in support of breast cancer awareness. These both spread awareness but do not really tell the story behind the color pink or why people “heart” boobies.

Mathematics major Austin Smith is doing something special for his mother, Marlene White, who is now eight years cancer-free. He is spreading awareness in a unique way that almost forces people to stop and ask him about his story.

Smith was nine years old when his mother was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer and was given only six months to live.

“I didn’t really understand. We did [Relay for Life] every year when I was a kid so I knew cancer was bad ,and it never really dawned on me, at that point in my life, that I might not have a mom anymore,” said Smith.

Now, at 18 years old, Smith more than just understands the struggle of fighting cancer and its effect on family members; he has lived it.

“Every morning [when Austin was younger] he would take me into the spare bedroom and put his hands over the breast that had the tumor in it and he would pray and ask, ‘Is it gone yet?’,” said White.

In commemoration of his mother being cancer-free, Smith shaves his hair short enough to make very visible designs, usually picked by her.

Smith adds these designs every October. This year, the word “mom”, the breast cancer awareness ribbon and the number eight are shaved into his head.

“It’s just so touching to me, that he is willing to do that and that he honors his mother that much,” said White. “I think it’s awesome and an awesome testimony to Austin and his ability to spread the word about breast cancer and that there’s hope for people.”

Smith started this tradition three years ago.

“I surprised my mom the first October. I just came home with my head shaved and vowed every year I would do it to show my support for her,” said Smith

The design put into Smith’s head by Jason Dunn at Anthony’s Barbershop on 21st and Broadway in Sacramento is not only there to show support to his mother but to spread breast cancer awareness.

“I do it for two reasons,” said Smith. “It’s a sign to God that says, ‘Thank you for keeping [my mom] here.’ I don’t know what I would do without her. And the second reason is, I’m a huge advocate for breast cancer awareness.”

Smith chose to do the design on his head because he felt like it would have a bigger impact.

“It’s talked about so much and there is pink all over the NFL. If I were to just shave my head bald people would just be like, ‘That’s a bald guy,’ but when they see the design, they think about breast cancer and people ask about my story and I get to tell them that [breast cancer] is something serious,” Smith said.

Smith has done a lot to show his support for his mother and people affected by breast cancer. He attributes his desire to do so to his faith.

“My mom came back from stage four breast cancer,” said Smith. “I’m just trying to give people hope.”