Oxford Middle School eighth-grader Carleigh Rodriguez placed third out of more than 6,000 middle school and junior high participants from across the state in the Farm Bureau Insurance of Michigan’s annual America & Me essay contest.
Rodriguez titled her essay “My Personal Michigan Hero” in accordance with the statewide competition’s theme. She submitted the essay through a class project.
In her essay, Rodriguez wrote about her personal hero, Maggie Varney, who is the founder and CEO of Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids (formerly known as Wigs 4 Kids Michigan) which provided Rodriguez with a wig when she was being treated for cancer as a young girl.
In the past, Rodriguez previously battled Neuroblastoma, which is often found in the small glands on top of the kidneys (adrenal glands) which most commonly affects children.
She was first diagnosed with the disease when she was just 20-months-old.
After she entered remission, the Neuroblastoma returned for Rodriguez two more times— when she was 4-years-old and again at 6-years-old.
As a young girl who frequently had to undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Rodriguez eventually lost her hair when she was around 6-years-old.
As she watched girls her age braiding each other’s hair, making friends, and living overall “normal” lives, Rodriguez described feeling “down all the time” after her hair began to fall out.
Relief came for Rodriguez and her family a few months later as they came to learn about Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids.
It was there, Rodriguez said she was welcomed with open arms and was invited to choose the color and length she wanted to see incorporated into her brand-new wig.
Through the kindness and passion of Varney’s nonprofit, Rodriguez was gifted her custom wig—which could be styled, curled and straightened— a few short months later.
“It really boosted my confidence and self-esteem,” said Rodriguez. “I could go outside… I had hair again and it was my natural hair color. It just made me feel a little bit normal and a little bit happier with everything that was happening.”
Rodriguez said she wore her wig for nearly two years as she recovered from her final bout of Neuroblastoma and as she eventually entered remission for the final time at around 7-years-old.
Although Rodriguez no longer needs to wear her wig, she said she has never forgotten the relief Varney and her organization brought to her, adding that she was happy to share her story and to help shed light on the wonderful gift it brings to the community.
“I felt really good placing third in the competition,” said Rodriguez. “I didn’t expect to place at all and I felt really happy… not just because I’d gotten a high place but also that I had helped (spread) some awareness about Maggie and her organization.”
Rodriguez and her family made a friend for life through the experience, as she said they still donate to Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids today and attend events for the organization.
Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids, based in St. Claire Shores, was formed in 2003 and has since provided wigs to over 4,000 children in need, according to its website. Wigs typically retail between $2,500-$3,000 and cost Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids about $800 and 16 hours of labor to provide. At Maggie’s Wigs 4 Kids, no child is turned away and no family ever pays.
Rodriguez and the other top-ten essay winners were each awarded $1,000 and will be honored in Lansing on May 15.