This is a guest post written by Jeff Freedman, CEO, Small Army
I will never forget the phone call I received from my colleague Mike on Dec. 26, 2005. He was calling to tell me that he had stage-four squamous cell carcinoma. He'd previously won two battles with cancer and had been in remission for 20 years, so by most medical standards, he should have been in the clear. For the next two years, we at Small Army watched Mike's battle: starting treatment two days after the birth of his third child; experiencing hope with each positive sign and frustration with each setback; and, finally, preparing his family for a future without him. We watched him leave us gracefully in November 2007.
This experience was among the most difficult one that I, or a business in general, could ever face. However, it also gave me a fresh perspective on life and a better understanding of the impact we, as advertisers and storytellers, could have on the world. Every day, we at Small Army help our clients craft stories intended to share their beliefs, build relationships, and, ultimately, drive sales. But, the power to build relationships through creative storytelling can make an impact far beyond sales. I witnessed that firsthand with Mike, the ultimate storyteller, as he used the power of storytelling to motivate people, drive creativity and, especially in the final days of his life, inspire and move people to do good. With that insight, and a commitment to continue Mike’s fight against cancer, we created a nonprofit organization called Small Army for a Cause, and an associated cancer fundraiser, Be Bold, Be Bald!
We recognized that there were many great cancer fundraisers, but very few of them actually caused people to better understand the realities of the disease—and most were also limited by geography, athleticism, and available time. Be Bold, Be Bald! is unlike any of those events, and it forces people to get a small taste of one of the many difficulties that cancer patients face—going bald. Participants anywhere can sign up to wear a bald cap for a full day (this year, the day is October 21). It may seem like a simple task, but imagine having people staring at you at Starbucks, school, work, the bus, or other places in your daily routine, wondering why you are wearing a bald cap. It is a feeling that many cancer patients do not have a choice about and, as someone who has done it twice, I can attest that the awkward feelings help you better understand one of the many challenges of fighting cancer.
I view the bald cap as a sign of strength. I am proud to wear it, and hope for people to ask me why I have it on. If you have ever seen someone go through cancer treatments, you know that, while they may be physically weak, they are emotionally strong beyond belief. I will never forget watching Mike comfort others (including me) as he prepared to leave us. It was truly amazing.
Be Bold, Be Bald! is a story of strength, caring and solidarity—one that we hope many people will engage in and share with others. To get involved, just visit beboldbebald.org to get your participation kit (bald cap, T-shirt, etc.), choose the charity you’d like your proceeds to support, and begin your fundraising efforts. All cancer-related 501c3 organizations are also invited to become beneficiaries so they can use this event to raise awareness and money for their unique charities. In just two years, we have raised more than $250,000 and, in 2010, we were able to grant 100% of the funds raised for each involved charity. This year, we hope the story spreads even further (and much more money is raised).
So though Mike isn't here with us today, his spirit lives on. The life lessons he taught us helped make us a better advertising agency, and he's helping us continue his fight against cancer. Thanks, Mike. We miss you.
[Bottom image: Small Army creators Mike Connell (left) and Jeff Freedman]