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To make a donation to Ashlynn’s family, visit www.gofundme.com/44uags or www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/raising-funds-and-shaving-it-all-off-cancer-will-lose-/97257. To donate in person, go to Billy’s Toys and Comics at 3569 Atlanta Highway, Flowery Branch.
Ashlynn Geringer, a 4-year-old Lumpkin County girl who has leukemia, received an interesting birthday present Saturday: a family friend’s hair.
The event, titled “Going Bald for a Cause,” raised awareness and funds to help Ashlynn’s family cope with the costs of her cancer treatment.
“A lot of the reason why I felt strongly about doing this is because my uncle was diagnosed with cancer when I was little,” said Jennifer Ochs, who donated her hair and helped coordinate Saturday’s event. “I felt really helpless then.
“I saw him battle cancer for 18 years,” she continued. “And when he passed away, I made a personal vow that if anyone I knew was diagnosed, I would make some kind of effort to help them.”
And when Rebecca Geringer, Ashlynn’s mother and one of Ochs’ former classmates from West Hall High School, posted on Facebook that her daughter had been diagnosed with cancer, Ochs knew she had to help.
“I was shocked when (Ochs) said she was going to shave her head,” Geringer said. “I never thought anyone would shave their head for my child. I didn’t really know what to say except ‘Thank you so much.’”
Ochs’ hair will go to Locks of Love, a nonprofit that creates wigs out of human hair for children who have lost their hair due to medical conditions. Her willingness to shave her head raised $1,270 on the fundraising website www.youcaring.com.
Final figures for the money raised at Saturday’s event were unavailable since donations are still being accepted.
According to Ashlynn’s Facebook page, Jeff Juhasz and Amanda Sutton also shaved their heads at home for “Going Bald for a Cause.”
Ashlynn was first diagnosed with leukemia last August after she was taken to an emergency room for bleeding mouth sores. Since then, it has been an emotional roller coaster for the little girl and her family, Geringer said.
Ashlynn has received multiple chemotherapy treatments, undergone surgery to have a chest port implanted to receive medication and has had blood transfusions. In addition, she has been hospitalized several times, once for 20 days, and spent last Christmas in the hospital.
The 4-year-old has responded well to the treatments, and her doctors give her between an 80 and 90 percent chance of being cured, Geringer said.
However, Ashlynn’s immune system is weak because of the treatment. The absolute neutrophil count, which gauges the strength of a person’s immune system, in a healthy child is around 5,000. At her worst point, Ashlynn’s dropped to zero.
“We’re limited on where we can take her because of the germs,” Geringer said. “A grocery store buggy can hospitalize her. The flu can kill her.
“She was supposed to start pre-K this August, but we are having to hold her out of school because of the cancer.”
Making the event all the more emotional, Ashlynn began her next phase of chemotherapy treatment about a week ago, which caused her hair to start falling out Sunday.
In a show of support for her sister, Ashlynn’s 6-year-old sibling Kailynn decided to shave her head in the near future as well.
“She doesn’t want Ashlynn to feel alone,” Geringer said. “She wants her to know that her sister is willing to battle this with her.
“We’re going to try to set up a fundraising event for Kailynn herself. She is so excited about it.”
In addition to the stresses that come with Ashlynn’s treatment, her family is coping with the financial burden. Most treatments are covered by insurance, but the Geringers live on a single income.
Financial difficulties are compounded by the costs of medication not covered by insurance, frequent trips to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and babysitters for Kailynn.
“The financial impact has been really hard,” Geringer said. “It could cost in a month upward of $1,000 depending on hospitalizations.”
After Ashlynn finishes this round of treatment, she will likely be on maintenance chemotherapy drugs for the next two years.
Billy’s Toys and Comics is holding a silent auction for an acoustic guitar with proceeds benefitting the Geringers. Bids can be placed in person at 3569 Atlanta Highway in Flowery Branch or on the store’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pages/Billys-Toys-and-Comics-LLC/223798710994234.
For more information on the silent auction, call the Billy’s Toys and Comics at 770-533-9533.