Six-year-old Fred Tilbury likes math, Hot Wheels and snowmobiling. He also likes his hair. Has a thing about it, actually.
Once, his mom, Naomi, cut it too short, and "you would have thought it was the end of the world," she said.
So when Fred learned that the radiation he was undergoing to treat the inoperable cancer spiderwebbed across his brain would make his hair fall out, he was very scared and very sad.
His best friend, Noah Vicich, agreed to shave his head with him. Then some classmates agreed to shave theirs too. Then some teachers, some friends and some neighbors joined in.
On Friday afternoon, they filled the cafeteria at Fred's school, St. Helena School in south Minneapolis for a show of solidarity and a fundraiser.
The about 200 students at the private Catholic school had covered one wall with red hearts. "Dear Fred," one said. "We love you and you rock, Fred!" Another: "Dude your too cool for school! Get well soon dude!" Parents sold T-shirts that read "I shaved my head for Fred," and "Friends for Fred."
The Tilburys first realized something was wrong when Fred fell at school in May. Doctors found a growth but said it didn't appear to be cancerous, so they took a wait-and-see approach, Naomi said.
Six months later, Fred was seeing double from his left eye. Just before Christmas, he was in the hospital for an MRI and a biopsy.
Doctors diagnosed a rare, aggressive form of cancer that had branched across his brain and wrapped around his brain stem. Doctors give him 18 months to live, maybe more with treatment.
Although he began radiation two weeks ago, Fred has remained upbeat.
On Friday, he was happy and playful, as friends say he always is. He dared people to get Mohawks: "You gotta do a Mohawk!" he told his dad, Dave. "If you do too, I'll do one," his dad said.
At 4 p.m., the electric clippers of four hair stylists began buzzing. Watching his dad's white-blond hair disappear in a few long strokes, Fred got quiet; then upset. Soon, he had to leave the room.
But dozens of people remained crowded around the impromptu barber shop. Ten-year-old Ben Murray -- who lives three houses from Fred and met him "when I was born" -- smiled as they buzzed his hair. "I'm proud," he said afterward.
The crowd stood on tiptoes and chairs to see one teacher shave off her hair and another his moustache.
Soon, a third of the room was bald.
After some tears, some time in the stairwell in his mom's arms, a chocolate cupcake and a temporary tattoo and some time rubbing his dad's newly shaved head, Fred joined them.
His mother took the clippers and slowly, carefully shaved her son's head to reveal a thick scar running from one ear to the other. Fred kept his head low, eyes down.
"Freddy, Freddy, Freddy," the crowd cheered. Fred looked up at them and smiled.
Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168