08/26/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT
When 39-year-old garbageman Manuel Garcia began losing his hair last month while undergoing chemotherapy for stomach cancer, his relatives felt emotionally handcuffed by their inability to help him. But that was before Garcia's older brother, Julio, and three relatives decided to show him that they thought hairless pates were great. So the four men cropped their hair and immediately drove to the Milwaukee County Medical Complex. "When I woke up and saw them," Garcia says, "I started to laugh." The others did too—"so hard that the nurse had to come into the room and tell us to keep quiet."
The following day Garcia was discharged from the hospital. When he arrived home the first order of business was to take an electric razor to what little hair he had left. By then friends and relatives had begun streaming into the house for shearings of their own. By the end of the evening Garcia had shaved nearly 50 heads, including those of his three sons. Garcia's wife and daughter also cut their hair, although Manuel forbade them to take it all off. About a dozen other women got trimmed too.
Last March Garcia was operated on for stomach tumors that doctors discovered couldn't be removed without killing him. Garcia is an acknowledged leader among the 600 Puerto Rican families living in his northeastern Milwaukee neighborhood, and in the past several weeks some 50 more of his friends and relatives have lopped off their locks, vowing to remain clean shaven for as long as he remains alive. According to doctors, that could be anywhere from a few months to a few years. Meanwhile Manuel's outlook is as bright as a bald head reflecting the sunshine. "I know what I have and what I have to face," he says. "If a lot of people did for other cancer patients what my friends are doing for me, it would help."