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Student abuzz with altruism
U.Va. senior Phoebe Willis will lose her hair and go bald to help childhood cancer research

 City native Phoebe Willis, a senior at University of Virginia, is having her head shaved to help fight childhood cancer.
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Date published: 1/27/2013

By Rob Hedelt

IT SAYS A LOT about Phoebe Willis that she isn't fretting a second over the impending loss of her long auburn locks.

Not if it can help her raise $25,000 for childhood cancer research.

The fourth-year University of Virginia student and Fredericksburg native said the thought of seeing her bald in college graduation pictures gave a few relatives pause.

But "I like to think years from now I'll look at those pictures and remember that I did something in my last year of college to help fight childhood cancer."

On March 21, the four-year U.Va. field hockey player will join handfuls of other students getting heads shaved smooth as part of the St. Baldrick's Foundation effort to raise money to fight childhood cancer.

Don't bet against the determined 22-year-old reaching her goal. Willis, the daughter of Judge Gordon Willis and attorney Tory Willis of the city, has already taken in $6,000 in donations for her promise to shave her head.

Not only has she reached out to classmates, friends, family members and local businesses, she has even traveled to a hospital in Richmond to meet with a young cancer patient.

"I got a contribution from Travis Compher, a 12-year-old from Caroline County who's been in treatment for leukemia," said Willis. That led to a visit with Travis, who was undergoing hospital treatments.

"He was such an inspiring young man, so positive despite what he's going through," said Willis, who said the visit and the loss of an uncle to cancer have given her fundraising efforts more urgency.

"I can't imagine being that age and dealing with what he and other children with cancer have to cope with."

Willis, who suffered less life-threatening but still frustrating adversity last year when she broke her foot and missed the whole field hockey season, said she first heard about the St. Baldrick's fundraiser from a friend in a religious studies class during her freshman year.

The idea bounced around that soon-to-be-bare noggin for a few years until she decided it was something she could and should do.

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For more about Phoebe Willis' drive to raise money for childhood cancer research, or to contribute, see stbaldricks.org/participants/phoebe.