First Bald, Then Beloved

Monday, January 29, 2018 - 9:00am

One winter evening in 2014, Andrew Banchich walked into the kitchen at Kevin Guest House (KGH) to find a group of Roswell Park volunteers making dinner. KGH is a medical hospitality house, and Andrew — then the resident manager — knew most of the people, because they often prepared meals for the out-of-town patients who stayed at KGH while getting medical care in Buffalo.

This time there was a new volunteer. She was bald and had an accent. “I thought, Wow, she’s very pretty,” Andrew remembers. “I wondered where she was from.”

He soon learned that JuYi Chen was a business operations analyst at Roswell Park and that she was originally from Taiwan. Her colleague, Liz Penepent, had invited her to help serve the guests that evening.

Sitting across from her at dinner, Andrew discovered why JuYi was bald. The previous day, she had had her head shaved as part of the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation’s Goin’ Bald for Bucks Team Roswell event, raising $4,320 in donations to fund cancer research and patient-care programs. She also donated her hair to make a wig for someone who had experienced hair loss due to a medical condition. 

“I found out about Bald for Bucks in the employee newsletter, and I saw other people at Roswell Park who were doing it,” JuYi recalls. “My hair was really long. I thought going bald would be a bigger statement than just getting it cut, and I would probably get more donations if I shaved it.

“My family and friends were very generous and donated a lot,” she adds. Her parents encouraged her: “They thought it was a great thing to do, and hair grows back, so why not?”

JuYi also recalls that as she served the guests and joined the others for the meal at KGH, she noticed Andrew, too. “He was tall and slim and good-looking. I thought, He‘s too cool for school; he won’t talk to me or notice me.

She was wrong. Smitten by her bright personality, kindness and beauty, Andrew couldn’t stop thinking about JuYi after the Roswell Park group left KGH. Later that same evening, he got in touch with her through her friend Liz. He and JuYi texted back and forth all night. They learned that they shared many of the same viewpoints and interests, and that both of them played the violin. By the time the conversation ended, it was 5 a.m.

Andrew and JuYi were married July 1, 2016. They’ve had many adventures since then, even traveling to Taiwan and Hong Kong last summer to visit her parents and extended family.

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It has been four years since they first met, and JuYi’s hair has had plenty of time to grow back. On Wednesday, February 21, 2018, once again she’ll step onto the stage in Roswell Park’s Research Studies Center to join other volunteers who have pledged to go Bald for Bucks. “I’m honored to work with a lot of dedicated, talented coworkers, and I want to do more for Roswell Park,” she says. “Everyone participates in different fundraising events, like the Ride for Roswell, and this is one I can do well.”

She hopes to beat her previous fundraising total by at least $1, and this time her husband is the lead donor on her page. She says Andrew has also made a pledge of his own: “If I hit $5,000 in donations, he’s going to shave his hair off.”

“I really don’t want to provoke Mother Nature,” Andrew says sheepishly, “but if we reach $5,000, I’m going to do it.”

Funds raised through Bald for Bucks support cancer research at Roswell Park, including the development of such promising new immunotherapies as cancer-treatment vaccines. Donations are also used to cheer, comfort and encourage patients through art and music therapy, pastoral care programs, visits from therapy dogs, and our Music in the Lobby program. You can help make these things possible by donating to Team Roswell or by registering for the February 21 event.