Redondo Beach Police Captain Jon Naylor said he always knew the bonds between police officers were tight — but never as much so as when his daughter, 11-year-old Cait, was diagnosed last October with an aggressive form of cancer.
On Saturday, Jan. 18, Redondo Beach police officers, along with friends and officers from neighboring departments, came out to show how much they support Naylor and his family by shaving their heads as a way to raise money for childhood cancer research.
“I’m blown away by the amount of support,” said Naylor who’s worked for the Redondo Beach Police Department for more than 25 years. “The support is so overwhelming. It’s just so touching.”
Naylor said all the money raised on Saturday will go toward the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which is the largest contributor to childhood-cancer research grants in the country, according to spokeswoman Michele Franco. Since 2005, the foundation has funded $282 million in childhood cancer research grants, Franco said.
Every year the foundation holds roughly 1,000 events nationwide — with more than 33,000 people saying goodbye to their locks for cancer research, Franco said.
“The way it started was people wanted to shave their heads to show solidarity with kids battling cancer who happen to lose their hair during cancer treatment, but they also wanted to find a way to continue the fight by raising money for research,” Franco said.
Naylor said his daughter first exhibited signs of illness in early October 2018 when she complained of soreness in her ankle. Thinking it was likely a swollen ankle, possibly from a sprain playing volleyball, Naylor suggested wrapping it with a bandage and giving it time to heal.
“Thank God her mom took her in and got it checked out,” Naylor said.
They went to an orthopedic doctor who took X-rays but didn’t see broken bones or ligaments. The doctor suggested they get an ultrasound and an MRI.
“We thought that was crazy,” Naylor said. “We never thought cancer would show up in an ankle. We were in disbelief.”
The ultrasound ended up discovering a mass in her ankle, which turned out to be stage 4 rhabdomyosarcoma, an aggressive form of soft tissue cancer often afflicting children. Rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common soft tissue cancer in children, with approximately 350 new cases each year in the United States, according to research reported by St. Baldrick’s.
Cait was immediately put on a 42-week chemotherapy plan. She was taken out of her Torrance elementary school and put into an independent-study course overseen by a teacher who comes to her home twice per week.
“It’s been such a roller coaster, but having the support of all the people from the police department has made such a big difference,” Naylor said.
It’s not just his fellow police officers in Redondo Beach who have shown support. At Saturday’s event, officers from Torrance, Hermosa Beach and Gardena showed up to shave their heads as well.
Torrance teacher Derek Hoffman, who previously had Cait as a student, came away from the event with a bright clean scalp.
“I just thought what a great cause to be able to do it and support Cait and support St. Baldrick’s,” Hoffman said.