Watching children devote their time and effort to charity will warm anyone’s heart. But what if their efforts become overshadowed by the terror and regret brought on by bullying? One high school girl in Australia raised over $800 for leukemia only to have her friends and peers tell her, “You look stupid.”
How do those two events connect? Read on to learn how a high schooler’s cancer fundraiser in honor of her grandma turned into a traumatic event that has her supporters fuming.
Meet The Twelve-Year-Old Activist
Kyarah Doyle, a 12-year-old girl from New South Wales, Australia, had an optimistic goal. She decided to create a fundraising page through the Leukemia Foundation, and specifically, the World’s Greatest Shave challenge.
Her mother, Jessica Smith, said that her daughter has “a massive heart” and “wanted to do what she could to help other people and families going through this tough time.” Kyarah set up a fundraising page with an ultimate goal of raising $1,000 to aid patients with blood cancer.
Her Family History Of Cancer
Kyarah Doyle had a long history with leukemia. Three years earlier, her grandmother had battled through blood cancer. Fortunately she survived, but she lost all her hair from chemotherapy. Her mother had participated in many fundraising events for Leukemia during Kyarah’s childhood.
By the time Kyarah began looking into her own fundraising, she was already familiar with the process. She understood firsthand the dangers of the disease, and how difficult treatment could be. And she wanted to help.
Leukemia – A Destructive Disease
Leukemia is a type of cancer that infects blood and bone marrow. It appears most commonly in people over 55 or under 20, but the older patients have a much higher chance of surviving. The American Cancer Association determines that 60,300 new cases of leukemia were diagnosed in 2018, causing over 24,300 deaths.
Leukemia can either be acute, which causes rapid health decline, or chronic, which causes slow cell degeneration. Those afflicted spend an average of five years in intensive treatment and care. Unfortunately, many patients cannot afford the expenses required for treatment.
Kyarah’s Blood Cancer Fundraiser
Kyarah understood that leukemia patients did not always have the money for five years of medication and treatment. After seeing the World’s Greatest Shave fundraising campaign, she decided to launch her own fundraiser. On her fundraising page, she claimed that she would shave her head for awareness on March 14, 2019.
Kyarah had already put more effort into cancer awareness and aid than most average 12-year-olds. But what would her mother think about Kyarah’s decision to shave off her beautiful dark blonde hair?
Her Mother’s Reaction
Despite the gravity of Kyarah’s choice, her parent fully supported her. “I lost a high school friend to [leukemia],” Jessica Smith told Yahoo7. Ms. Smith had participated in the World’s Greatest shave challenge before and admired her daughter’s selflessness.
Ms. Smith also said that “words can’t express” how proud she is of Kyarah, and that she participated in her own volition. Kyarah had full support from her mom — but would her peers react the same way?
The Defining Haircut
By the time Kyarah walked into the hair salon to shave off her gorgeous locks, she had raised almost $800, just shy of her $1,000 goal. Kyarah stuck to her word and shaved her head at Tempest Hair Design on March 14th.
She joked throughout the whole cut about lowering costs of shampoo. “It’s a little weird,” she admitted, smiling. “Breezy.” Kyarah had the entire weekend to get used to her new ‘do, but her classmates were in for a shock that coming Monday.
Why Shave Her Head?
The World’s Greatest Shave is an Australian fundraising event that’s run since 1998. They aim to “shave the world” by spreading awareness of blood cancer. Shaving one’s head communicates the message, and it also helps cancer patients (who often lose their hair due to chemo) feel less insecure.
Some people partake in it for fun, and some do it for awareness. Either way, they help raise money to advance research of blood cancers such as lymphoma, myeloma, and leukemia. These cancers have claimed more lives than melanoma and breast cancer combined.
The Horrifying Response
On Monday, Kyarah came home in tears. “She was bawling her eyes out,” Ms. Smith said, “and said kids were calling her ugly and asking why she chose to shave all her hair off.” Kyarah’s mom felt heartbroken that her daughter’s brave activism received such a cruel response.
On Tuesday, Kyarah still felt upset. She spent the day at home with her mom. Would Kyarah regret it? And what will the school do to combat this?
Why Did This Happen?
Psychological studies demonstrate that many bullies lack self-awareness. They do not perceive what they are doing as wrong and invent justifications for their actions. Many also have low self-esteem and aim to feel in control of someone.
It is possible that Kyarah’s peers felt jarred by her appearance, and wanted to assert their own conformity by ratting on her. No one knows. But Kyarah’s experience touches upon a more significant issue. One in three students reports being bullied in grades six through twelve, meaning that it’s a lot more common than people think.
Doubting Her Fundraising Efforts
Ms. Smith told Yahoo7 that her daughter felt “devastated,” and felt “like she’s done the wrong thing.” Kyarah felt that she sacrificed her beautiful hair for the cause with no reward. She reported one instance where a group of girls, who were once her friends, called her “ugly.”
“They were shouting things at me,” Kyarah recalled. “And I just kept thinking how stupid I was being to have been friends with them in the first place.” Ms. Smith told Daily Mail Australia that her friends should have supported her, as they knew full well why she shaved her head.
Her Day Away From School
The seventh grade 12-year-old felt so devastated that she could not face going back to school on Tuesday. Her mom reassured her that “what she’s done is incredible” and that all her fundraiser supporters were proud of her.
“I thought high school students would be more mature than this,” Ms. Smith told Daily Mail Australia. The mother of four blamed the school for not publicizing her fundraiser beforehand, and for not taking action even though they held an anti-bullying event a month earlier.
The Effects Of Bullying Are Worse Than Most People Think
Those who believe that victims of bullying need to “toughen up” or that bullying is “just a fact of life” do not understand the psychological impact that teasing has on young people. Victims like Kyarah grow afraid of attending school, which makes their academic progress drop.
The constant anxiety victims struggle with can lead to depression or physical illness. Emotions take up a large amount of the body’s energy, which is why stress makes people more prone to sickness. In more severe cases, bullying can lead to long-lasting symptoms such as addiction and suicidal tendencies.
Mom Gives The School A Piece Of Her Mind
Jessica Smith contacted Inverell High School and recounted her complaints. “I’m also angry the school didn’t explain to students why she had shaved her head,” she told Yahoo7 News. She expressed that she wished the staff had taken students aside and explained why she had no hair.
Ms. Smith further expressed her feelings to Daily Mail Australia. “[The school] literally did not want anything to do with it,” she reported. “I feel if they had promoted it, she wouldn’t have been bullied.” How would the school respond to these accusations?
The School’s Response
A spokesperson from the New South Wales Department of Education had returned Ms. Smith’s call within the hour, and said that they “will take appropriate action.” “The student will be provided with further support when she returns to school,” they added.
The spokesperson also mentioned that Kyarah did not report the mean comments to Inverell High School staff. They encouraged all students to report bullying soon after it happens. “Bullying is not tolerated at Inverell High School,” they declared.
Should She Have Reported It?
Psychologists have studied why people, especially young people, often keep bullying to themselves. Though reasons vary, most people feel scared and confused after the teasing happens. Many teens are unsure of how to handle the situation, and as a result, keep the instances to themselves as they try to figure it out.
Other reasons could include feeling embarrassed or believing that it wouldn’t do any good. In Kyarah’s case, she may have felt torn between her drive to support people with leukemia and her ruined self-confidence. Expecting her to report it the day of its occurrence might not be a reasonable demand.
The Students Were Already Told About It
The Department of Education spokesperson also told Yahoo7 News that Year 7 advisors already told students about Kyarah’s efforts during a group meeting earlier. The school also held an anti-bullying campaign only a month before.
This statement conflicts with Ms. Smith’s earlier claim that the school did not publicize Kyarah’s action. If the school’s assertions are correct, then the students did understand the reasoning behind Kyarah’s fashion change. Why did they insult her, then?
Anti-Bullying Programs May Not Be As Effective As Intended
In 2013, a study released from the University of Texas revealed an unintended result of anti-bullying campaigns. According to researchers, these programs generally increase incidences of bullying because they teach the kids the ins and outs of bullying.
“Through the programs, the students become highly exposed to what a bully is,” states lead study author Dr. Seokjin Jeong. “They know what to do or say when questioned by parents or teachers.” So the anti-bullying program offered a month before Kyarah’s haircut may have made her situation worse.
How Kyarah Might Recover
School staff told Kyarah’s mom that they would be talking to the kids involved with the bullying. Despite supposedly explaining the reason to them, the students need to learn that no one has to justify shaving their head for any reason. But Kyarah has received more supporters than bullies.
“The support has been overwhelming after the [first] article,” Ms. Smith has said. “I have people messaging me telling me how incredibly brave Kyarah is and how proud she should be.”
Kyarah has stated that, knowing how much support she’s garnered, she would do this again in a heartbeat. Support from strangers seems to have outweighed the horror Kyarah had to face at school.
Her fundraising page is still up and running. As of now, it has raised over $2,550 — over double her initial goal. Several donators congratulated her for being an inspiration and expressed sympathies for her story. You can sponsor Kyarah at the Leukemia Foundation website.
What Do The Donations Provide?
Leukemia foundations such as The World’s Greatest Shave offer free information and support services to victims of blood cancer and their families. Volunteers may help younger patients return to school after several years in treatment.
Some of these nonprofits team up with medical research facilities to send funds straight to cancer research. The more funding doctors have for research, the faster they can improve the safety of modern cures. Remember, leukemia patients stay sick for five years.