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Cancer survivor, co-workers unite for head-shaving pact

At a graphics company in Carmel, Calif., co-workers and a cancer survivor agree to shave their heads.
/ Source: WTHR-TV

At AlphaGraphics, a logo and graphics business in Carmel, Calif., a small crowd gathers at the front desk.

The handful of people, some with cameras, surround a small barber chair, placed there temporarily, while a stylist brought in for the occasion plugs in an electric trimmer.

The mood is light as workers nervously decide who will go first.

Five of them, including business owners Rhonda and Michael Kile, are about to have their heads shaved.

"I'm nervous it's not going to grow back," worker Jim Elias laughs as he volunteers to be the first in the chair.

For many women who deal with breast cancer, losing their hair comes at the cost of treatment.

For this group, it is a choice: to show support for those women. The one woman who put them up to this is cancer survivor Rhonda Kile.

"I feel so lucky I didn't go through chemo, didn't lose my hair," says Rhonda. "This is as close as I can get to feeling what other women feel about losing hair."

In 2009, during a routine mammogram, Rhonda learned she had breast cancer.

She remembers exactly what she was thinking when doctors told her the news. "The first thing I asked the doctor, 'Am I going to die?'"

Because her cancer was detected early, Rhonda's prognosis was good.  She underwent surgery and received radiation treatment, but avoided chemotherapy. This July, she will be officially "cancer free".

"I feel blessed to be alive that I want to help other women."

She started small, running by herself in the annual Komen Race for the Cure. This year, she wanted to make a bigger impact, so Rhonda called on her husband and co-workers to help.

They set a fundraising goal of $15,000, with milestones along the way. When they reached $5,000, the team known as "MAMMagRAPHICS" (a play on the company name) colored their hair pink.

At $7,500, Rhonda got a tattoo. A pink ribbon inside a kite with three pink ribbons on the tail she proudly displays on the back of her right shoulder. Rhonda explains the ribbon represents freedom, the ribbons represent each year of her survival. "To me, it stands for survival, courage, and hope."

At $10,000, Rhonda and her team vowed to shave their heads. Her husband, Michael, held out for $15,000 in donations.

On a Friday in mid-April, a little more than a week before the 2012 Race for the Cure in Indianapolis, with more than $12,000 raised, the team made good on their promise. Even Michael, who explained, "I just couldn't figure on her doing it herself."

One by one, they sat down.  One by one, tufts of hair fell to the ground. Each one, although unsure of the outcome, was happy to help.

Rhonda was visibly touched by the support. When it was her turn to finally get in the  "hot" seat, the auburn-haired petite 60-year old half-joked, "I'm more worried about my gray hair than no hair."

Although they tease each other about how they look, what they did is no joke.  It has become for Rhonda and her team, "a symbol of solidarity and a tribute to (the) courage" of women fighting the breast cancer battle.

And Rhonda hopes a reminder that early detection can save lives. She believes, it saved her life.

"My cancer was discovered through a routine mammogram and so I say if you are a woman afraid to know, please push through the fear. It could save your life."