I’M EIGHT, and standing by my bed is an actual grownup in iguana-themed pajamas: Aunt Jane.
“Wakey-wakey, ‘Lil Wingman!’” my weekend guardian commands. “What’re we doing today?”
“Ummmm…pajamas, TV and Häagen-Dazs all day long…and NO TELLING Mom!»
“You’re on, kid.”
We spend the next 48 hours sugar-high and stoked on back-to-back “Star Wars” flicks.
Jane’s officially the Pied Piper of my childhood.
TEN. It’s my birthday, and Jane brings a record–old to her, new to me.
She and my dad start singing, dancing, playing air guitar, pulling me in. The music swells like an ocean, its hypnotic waves–love, loss, freedom–all new to me.
And time feels…infinite.
“Wait’ll you see Springsteen!” exults Jane (a Jersey girl). But I already know: I’m Born to Run.
THIRTEEN. My Bar Mitzvah is eclipsed by shocking news: Jane has pancreatic cancer. I can’t even fathom what I’m Googling: a 7% survival rate??
Jane starts chemo; I start high school. Immersed in chemistry, biology, statistics, I find no antidote to fear. I do find PanCan (Pancreatic Cancer Action Network). Inspired by its motto—“Wage Hope!”—I launch a website that’ll tell Jane’s story while raising funds and awareness, team-jane.com. A bashful kid, I’m starting to…Run. Because maybe time’s not infinite after all.
FOURTEEN. Team Jane flourishes online and off as I coordinate supporters for a 5K. Jane walks nervously alongside me, wearing a brilliant smile. We raise $3K, far exceeding our goal. Afterwards I phone her, bursting with plans for our next event. She’s weirdly subdued. “Wingman,” she confides, “it was the worst day of my life.” First I’m stunned, wounded. Then I realize I’ve been given a trust. My Pied Piper’s yanked me past childhood and into the abyss where only she and her tumor live.
“Heyyy…c’mon,” I stammer, helpless for words of my own, “y-y-know what Bruce says, ‘No retreat/no-ohhh sur-ren-derrr…’”
“Of course!” she responds, playful again. “And we’re a team now, thanks to…my captain!”
Her new nickname for me–“The Captain”–fuels my shaky-but-growing belief in myself.
SIXTEEN. Brooklyn, Delaware, Chicago–at PanCan Walks nationwide, Dad and I represent Team Jane. Jane, despite cancer’s spread, keeps fighting. I keep coordinating, blogging, fundraising. I’ve raised nearly $150K, and with it, my confidence.
I summer-intern at PanCan. It’s intimidating–lobbying on Capitol Hill, being interviewed on TV, addressing hundreds at 5Ks. Most rewarding is creating “Voices of Hope,” a platform for teens to connect with survivors. Hope: it’s the only thing that quells the fear in kids like me, racing against time. Except…it’s not enough.
On 9/24/16, I cling to the last remaining beeps of Jane’s monitor. The only other sound in her crowded-but-hushed hospital room: Bruce, serenading from somebody’s phone. She can’t speak anymore but recognizes me, still tries flashing that smile that launched a thousand crazy adventures.
I can’t speak either, because there are no more words. Together we’d fought for life/love/family/all-day PJs/nonstop ice cream/Springsteen/a freaking CURE.
Anything but this statistic.
SEVENTEEN. Heavy-hearted and lead-footed, I summon Jane’s mantra: “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” I intern at another pancreatic cancer organization, CodePurple, where massive amounts of data are the chief weapons against this monster. Travelling the Northeast, entrusted with a self-designed project, I interview leading clinicians and researchers.
It’s illuminating. Progress, I’m learning, is fueled by passion and data, like life encompassing both sugar-highs and heartbreak. I grapple with paradoxes: Jane’s eternal childlike persona and her adult hell. And I resume Running–not “away” from anything, but towards everything.
My momentum is now for the 65,000 Americans battling this cancer and the 50,000 who’ll be diagnosed next year. For Jane and all the others whose races have ended. And for my own self; for the ability to marry fear with hope, hardship with joy–to fill finite hours with infinite fun. Blessed with this rare gift, my aunt took on the world. Today, armed with a Häagen-Dazs pint and a playlist, I plan on doing the same.
While back to school shopping is in full swing for most families this time of year, it is a difficult time of year for families with children battling cancer, or another life-threatening illness. Friends of Karen, a Westchester-based non-profit helps support these families with their annual Back to School Program which collects new backpacks, notebooks, markers, pencils and gift cards and distributes them to more than 850 Friends of Karen children in the tri-state area so they can begin the new year happily and successfully.
Friends of Karen parents say how shattering it is to go into a store and see healthy children, so excited about the new year, choosing their school supplies while their own child is in the hospital, uncertain about what the next day will bring. Parents often agonize between buying new school supplies for their “well” child or paying their ill child’s mounting medical expenses.
New backpacks (for all ages) and $25 gift cards (to Target, Forever 21, Macy’s, The Gap, Old Navy, Visa/MasterCard) are in high demand for Friends of Karen families. Other school supply items such as three- ring binders, filler paper, composition books and Crayola washable markers are also needed. Donations are being accepted until September 15 and can be mailed to office headquarters at 118 Titicus Road in North Salem or dropped off there.
Friends of Karen helps families throughout N.Y., N.J .and CT. The organization is unique in that it customizes the assistance they provide. Realizing that a life-threatening illness of a child impacts the entire family, Friends of Karen social workers work with each family member offering an individualized program of emotional, financial and day-to-day practical support. For more information, visit www.friendsofkaren.org.
… and Hope Following the 10th Annual Relay for Life of Chappaqua
Article and Photo by Gillian Hand
On May 20th, the field in front of Bell Middle School was transformed. Tents and tables sprung up across the property as Greeley students prepared to spend the night at one of the most anticipated fundraising events of the year: the 10th Annual Relay for Life of Chappaqua. All night long, these participants would walk in support of cancer patients, raising money for research and fostering hope for a world without cancer.
The dedication to finding a cure runs strong in this American Cancer Society event, bringing communities together across the globe and right here in Chappaqua. Although no words can do it justice, this Relay for Life slogan is a true testament to the nature and goals of this inspiring event: “Celebrate. Remember. Fight back.”
2017 marked the tenth year of Chappaqua’s participation in Relay for Life. For one decade, students at Horace Greeley High School have come together to raise money for cancer research and have walked the track throughout the night in support of all those who have been touched by cancer. This year, the reconstruction of the Greeley track and field facilities prompted the event’s move to downtown Chappaqua.
While this would mark the first year that the fundraiser would be held anywhere but the Greeley property, the new location of Bell Middle School enhanced community involvement and inspired increased participation of local merchants and residents. Although the Bell facilities do not include a track, committee members from the Greeley club worked throughout the day to prepare the grounds for the fundraiser and mimic the setup of past years. While it was certainly a change from the previous events held at Greeley, the Chappaqua administration partnered with the Relay for Life of Chappaqua executive board to help ease the transition and make the event the great success it has been in the past.
I served on the Relay planning committee and executive board throughout my four years at Greeley. Behind the scenes, this dedicated Greeley club prepares for the event throughout the year, organizes the setup and cleanup of the event grounds, and works tirelessly to ensure that the night runs smoothly. It has been an honor to not only take part in such an inspiring and worthy event, but to also lend a personal hand in the successful planning and execution of the fundraiser. Each year, I have been privileged to watch the event grow and develop at every stage, present for everything from the early months of planning to the sun rising over the field after a night of walking.
Relay for Life is extraordinary. By rallying behind friends or family members touched by the disease or simply staying the night despite heavy rain or cold temperatures, these students prove themselves year after year as true supporters of the cause. It is incredible to see students, families, Greeley faculty members, and other Chappaqua residents coming together in hope and support; Relay for Life of Chappaqua has shown me how successful we can be when we unite behind a common goal. Nearly everyone has been touched by cancer in some way, and with an event like Relay, the entire community can work together to foster change and progress in cancer research. While I am looking forward to continuing my participation in college, I am excited to watch Relay for Life of Chappaqua continue to grow and succeed.
At the time of the writing of this article, the 2017 Relay for Life of Chappaqua had raised over $170,000 for the American Cancer Society, and this number will only go up. Relay for Life is something that both Greeley and Chappaqua as a whole can be proud of.
To donate to Relay for Life of Chappaqua, visit http://main.acsevents.org/site/TR/RelayForLife/RFLCY17EA?pg=entry&fr_id=79440.
Inside Press Intern Gillian Hand is a senior at Greeley.
Chappaqua Moms Cycle for a World Without Cancer
While most Chappaqua residents were trying to adjust to losing an hour of sleep during daylight savings on March 12, 28 moms from Chappaqua gathered at the train station to board a train to Grand Central. The Chappy Gals were en route to participate in their fourth Cycle for Survival event, after months of planning and fundraising to do their part to help raise funds for Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital.
Team Chappy Gals was started four years ago by Chari Hirshson. She was inspired to start a team in support of cancer research when her then four-year-old daughter wished for a grandfather when asked what she most wanted during a recital. Chari lost her father to esophageal cancer, a type of rare cancer, when she was 18 and her husband lost both of his parents to cancer before their wedding (gall bladder and ovarian cancer).
“I was looking for a way to feel like I was actually doing something to help the battle against cancer and bring some hope to the cause,” said Hirshson. “Cycle for Survival has been such an inspiration to myself and family, especially as the cancer that has struck our family so significantly have been rare cancers. My hope is that in our lifetime, there will be a cure and I believe that the research being conducted at MSK will help us get there.”
Over the last four years, the team and its efforts have greatly expanded. What started as a team of 10 in 2014 has grown to the 28 women, all of who were riding in honor or memory of someone battling with cancer. This year, Chappy Gals raised more than $95,000 (at press time) bringing the total fundraising efforts of the team since inception to more than $232,000 (and growing).
Each team member was tasked with raising funds to support their ride–a four hour spin class on a cycling bike, broken up into one hour rides, held at Equinox gyms around the country. Team members raised money on an individual basis as well as reached out to the Chappaqua community for support. In late January, Chappy Gals co-sponsored a fundraising event at Lucy’s in Pleasantville. The highlight was a silent auction and raffle, with prizes donated by area stores, restaurants and services. More than 150 people were in attendance raising more than $14,000 was raised that evening.
“It was amazing to have the support of the community. We sincerely thank every Chappaqua and Mount Kisco store and business for donating their time, services and goods to help our cause,” added Hirshson.
Cycle for Survival, now in its 11th year, is dedicated to raising money to support research to fight rare cancers. One hundred percent of the proceeds go directly to fund research at Memorial Sloan Kettering, the world’s oldest and largest private cancer center, with funds allocated within six months of the event. Rare cancers are not as rare as they seem. Half of all cancer patients have what is considered a rare cancer, which includes brain, pancreatic, ovarian, thyroid, stomach, leukemia, lymphoma, pediatric cancers and many others.
The Cycle for Survival event is held throughout the country in Equinox gyms across 16 cities. So far in 2017, more than $33 million has been raised, bringing the total of funds raised since inception to more than $139 million for rare cancer research, which has directly contributed to more than 100 clinical trials and research studies.
“Being in the room, hearing the collective hum of hundreds of spin bikes, and listening to both heartbreaking and hopeful stories is such an impactful and inspirational experience,” said Hirshson.
“We exceeded our goal in 2017 and hope to raise the bar even further in 2018 with the support of the amazing women on this team and the greater community.”