Life with Gracie: A bold step to help fight cancer

Men shave their heads for all sorts of reasons.

Some do it to cover up receding hairlines. Some because they appreciate the inner peace that comes with not having to hide their naked pates with bad and noticeable toupees. And some simply because they see the value in being fully bald.

In a second-floor conference room the other day at Granite Telecommunications, Robert McCarley let go of his locks to increase awareness about pancreatic cancer and raise money for research.

“It was a no-brainer for me,” the 52-year-old father from Buford said.

We glare at research and even cancer with indifference. And then we or our sister or brother or mother gets a diagnosis and the world tilts.

That tilt happened for McCarley, a regional account manager of sales at Granite’s Atlanta office, in 1980 when his father, former Alabama state Sen. Mac McCarley, was diagnosed with stomach cancer.

And while dating his wife Hashis Fernandez in 1994, Robert McCarley said her sister was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Doctors gave the 20-year-old eight months to live.

“It was devastating,” McCarley said.

When Sasha Fernandez started to lose her hair during chemotherapy treatments, McCarley decided to shave his head and pay her a visit.

“It put a smile on her face,” he said.

Sasha died Dec. 22, 1994. Mac McCarley, after a second cancer diagnosis to the brain, lost his battle in 2007.

Six years later in 2013, prostate cancer visited Robert McCarley.

And so when he joined Granite a year ago and learned about the company’s Saving by Shaving fundraiser, he had to get involved.

He arrived at the company’s corporate offices in Quincy, Mass., for training just as the second annual event kicked off.

“Just seeing that and hearing the story of our CEO’s father’s battle with pancreatic cancer was inspiring,” McCarley said. “I said I have got to be part of this. Anything I can do to raise awareness, to help eradicate any of these cancers, I have to do it.”

The original event began in February 2014. Granite CEO Rob Hale Jr. jokingly dared an employee to shave his ZZ Top-style beard in exchange for a $10,000 donation to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Weeks later, 428 Granite employees shaved their heads or beards and donated hair to Locks of Love.

Granite, Rob Hale and his mother, Judy Hale, donated more than $2.2 million to Dana-Farber from that one event. Last year, 550 Granite employees shaved and the company donated $3.25 million to Dana-Farber.

This year, Hale issued a challenge to team members to aim even higher, and once again they rose to the occasion, raising more than $4.25 million.

McCarley was one of 42 employees in the Atlanta office and more than 780 nationwide to participate. That’s about 80 percent of their employee network.

Shane Hoff, regional vice president of sales, expects even greater participation in Atlanta next year when officials expect to double the company’s sales force.

“We are passionate about supporting this cause,” Hoff said. “We truly believe that the research being conducted is going to impact thousands of lives in the near future. Pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate of all major cancers. On a more personal level, we lost a teammate, our CEO’s father, and co-founder, Bob Hale, to this disease.”

For every person willing to participate in Saving by Shaving and Locks of Love, the company donates $5,000 to Dana-Farber.

In total, the company has donated more than $10 million to cancer research over the past three years.

A day after he sat in the barber’s chair to shave his head, McCarley still felt good about supporting the event.

“These are crazy times,” he said, “but yesterday it was all about giving and caring and what we can do to help other people.”

His only hope now is to persuade his wife and two teenage daughters to join him in making Saving by Shaving a family affair next year.

“I’m going to work on them,” he said.

Well, good luck with that.