Richmond firefighters go bald in show of support of teen cancer patient

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With her bright smile and tough as nails spirit, they call her "Amazing Grace." 13-year-old cancer patient Gracie Bargas is in the fight of her life, and her army of supporters has made it clear to the teen that she's not alone.

That army is made up of a tight-knit community which includes the Richmond Fire Department, where her father is a captain. Last month, the department hosted an event it called "Bald is Beautiful," to demonstrate their support for Gracie, who had to shave her head to undergo cancer treatment.
More than 50 firefighters from Richmond, as well as firefighters from nearby cities, including Pinole, Hercules and El Cerrito, along with members of the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District, all got together to shave their heads in solitarily with Gracie.

Firefighters from El Cerrito and Contra Costa County Fire also demonstrated their support by covering calls that came into the Richmond station so its members could take part in the  "Bald is Beautiful" event.

It was only three months ago Gracie was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Since then, she's undergone surgery, in an effort to remove a tumor found on her spine, and she's now in the midst of receiving chemotherapy treatment, her brother Richard Bargas told KTVU.

She's in and out of the hospital. "She takes three days off, every 20 days," Bargas said. 

She's home now, but on Wednesday Gracie is set to return to Children's Hospital Oakland, where she will begin her fourth round of chemotherapy.

"The chemo is kicking her butt... She's taking it day by day," the 25-year-old brother said of his little sister, whom he described as an energetic, kind-hearted, happy-go-lucky-girl, a top athlete and "softball stud."

Her day by day reality comes during a time that should be one of celebration, as her friends and fellow classmates at Christensen Middle School in Livermore get ready for graduation.

Because her immune system is compromised from the treatment, she can't attend school now, and she will also end up missing the start of high school, her brother explained.

"She's definitely bummed out," he said, noting that she won't be able to take part in her final middle school dance, as well as the end of year class trip and will likely miss her graduation. (Although, depending on her treatment schedule, her family is crossing fingers that she may be able to join her friends for the commencement ceremony.)

While the days have been difficult, the enormous support Gracie and the rest of the Bargases have received from the family-hood that is the fire service has meant the world to them, according to Gracie's brother, who himself is also a firefighter.

The support has come in many forms.

About a month ago, a member of the fire department established a GoFundMe campaign to try and lighten the financial burden Gracie's family is facing in their fight. So far, organizers have raised about $7,000. 

"Together we can ease some pain and stress in a very difficult time," organizers wrote on the "Amazing Gracie" GoFundMe page, "and being firemen ourselves, our mission is to unite as many firefighters, police officers, paramedics, EMT's, military personnel, prison guards, and any other man, woman or child who believes in giving in a time of need."

The support has also come in the form of visits to the hospital from members of the department to lift the young girl's spirit. And co-workers have covered shifts for Gracie's dad, so he and her mother can tend to the teen.

"It's times like this, we feel that family atmosphere," Gracie's brother said.

Captain Rick Bargas has been with the department for almost 30 years, according to his son. And Gracie is one of the department's own.

She's long been a well-known figure around Richmond's fire stations, Richard Bargas explained, "She's spent Christmases and birthdays there, when my dad has had to work."

Gracie's brother said it's during times of hardship, you truly feel how much members of the fire service would do to support one another, as he explained that being a firefighter goes beyond the work that they do.

"It's more than an occupation, a job, a career... It's a very, very tight knit family. Unless you're in it, most people would never understand," he said. "Words can't describe how grateful, how loved the family feels."

Gracie was not able to attend last month's "Bald is Beautiful" gathering, so afterward, participants stood outside the fire station where the event was held and sent her a video message, loud and clear, to show that they are with her in this fight, as they called out in unison, "We love you, Gracie!"