With all my heart, I want to thank the police officers, emergency workers and their family members who participated in “Brave the Shave” in Westbrook to raise money for childhood cancer research.

I lost my younger brother to cancer in 1969. He spent most of his last year and a half in the hospital; time at home with his family was rare and precious.

Michael lost his hair to chemotherapy and was very self-conscious about his baldness. Going out in public was an ordeal; sadly, people could be very rude with their staring and comments.

One afternoon, he and I decided to walk to the local playground. It was the first time in nearly a year that we got to just be children together.

We were hardly out of the house when Michael was verbally assaulted with crude taunts. To my dying day, I won’t forgot the pain and despair on his face.

At the age of 10, I experienced my first adult rage at the cruelty of others. Nevertheless, I was only a child, and could only scream helplessly at the taunter to shut up and leave us alone.

We never made it to the playground, and we never had another chance to go again.

It took seven years for me to give voice to what my brother and I suffered that day, via a short story for a creative writing class.

My teacher was stunned. He had no idea of the social death that cancer victims, even children, faced. Most people didn’t.

I wish Michael could have known people like Westbrook Police Chief Janine Roberts, who gave up her hair for children with cancer. She and others like her would have brought him ineffable comfort in his last days.

As I write this letter, I’m struggling to hold back the tears. Michael has been dead for 48 years, but his pain still lives in me.

Zoe Gaston

Cape Elizabeth