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pediatric cancer

More than 100 attendees shave their heads to raise funds for pediatric cancer


Dozens of people lined up to boldly go bald at the Northport-East Northport school district’s St. Baldrick’s Day event March 9. The event raised more than $63,000 for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a nonprofit organization that funds childhood cancer research.

Among the top teams were the East Northport Middle School Bald Tigers, led by teacher John Braun, raising more than $22,000. The team dedicated this year’s shave in memory of Caleb Paquet. Paquet, 19, died in August 2017 after a battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Braun grew a green mohawk for the occasion while marking the side of his head with “Caleb’s Army.” The Bellerose Fuzzballs, of Bellerose Elementary School, also raised more than $10,000 for the cause.


Runners braved the cold to raise funds for pediatric cancer research at Maggie's Mile Jan. 1. Photo by Karen Forman

By Karen Forman

The bitter cold weather didn’t stop approximately 500 courageous souls who braved the -2 “feels like” temperatures to run Maggie’s Mile at Sunken Meadow State Park in Kings Park on New Year’s Day.

Kieran Gibbons, a member of Northport Running Club, stood alone at the starting line while hundreds of runners huddled indoors at the Sunken Meadow Golf Course Clubhouse waiting for the race to begin.

“I am a longtime friend of Maggie’s family,” Gibbons said, “and this is a healthy way to start the New Year and raise money for pediatric cancer research.”

Students of South Huntington teacher Steve Schmidt bundled up to attend Maggie’s Mile Jan. 1. Photo by Karen Forman.

According to Steve Schmidt, “The event raised nearly $10,000 for the nonprofit Maggie’s Mission,” which will donate the funds toward research of malignant rhabdoid tumors at Memorial Sloan Kettering in memory of his daughter, Maggie.

Greenlawn teen Maggie Schmidt was only 16 years old when she was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer, malignant rhabdoid tumors, in October 2016. She died after a nine-month battle June 1, 2017. Many who took part in Monday’s event were members of the Northport Running Club, of which Steve Schmidt and other family and friends are members.

“After everything Steven and Donna and the family went through, we wanted to come together as a community to support them,” said Erica Fraiberg, a member of the running club.

Fraiberg finished second in the women’s division with a time under 6 minutes. The top two finishers were Alex Eletto, 20, of Stony Brook, for the men’s division who finished the mile-long course in 4:48 and Amanda Scanlon, 38, of Northport, who finished in less than 6 minutes.

Maggie’s father, a third-grade teacher at Maplewood Elementary School in South Huntington, ran the race dressed as Father Time with support from his students. Eight-year-olds  Priscilla Kenny and Michael
Ferdinando are in Schmidt’s class this year and came to run Maggie’s Mile, along with Michael’s older brother Joe, age 10.

Steve Schmidt stands with Baby New Year at Maggie’s Mile on New Year’s Day. Photo by Karen Forman.

“We love our teacher,” Michael said. “We wanted to do this. We made our shirts for the race. We have to run for Maggie’s Mission.”

Schmidt’s son, also named Steve, 20, proudly displayed a freshly inked tattoo on his arm for his late sister. He recalled how he and his dad were hiking out West in August 2016 when they got a call that Maggie was in the emergency room at Huntington Hospital.

“Maggie had internal bleeding,” he said. “They thought she had a burst cyst and that she would be fine.”

The late Greenlawn teen was still bleeding after surgery and had to be transferred to Cohen’s Children’s Hospital, according to her brother, where she then underwent a second surgery within three days and multiple blood transfusions.

For more than two months, the Schmidt family ushered their daughter back and forth to the ER and to various doctors, without a firm diagnosis of what was wrong. It wasn’t until October 2016 when Maggie underwent a third emergency surgery during which doctors found the multiple tumors in her abdomen.

“We need to raise money to fund more research,” the brother said. “We have almost no information about this disease. It’s so rare, that there aren’t enough cases.”

To learn more about Maggie’s Mission, visit the nonprofit organization’s website at www.maggiesmission.org.

A photo of Julia Diane Wilson is surrounded by her cousin, Ava Felice; Anna Lanze, and Julia’s best friend, Heidi Lanze. Photo by Donna Newman

Ten-year-old Julia Diane Wilson of Sound Beach lost her battle with acute lymphocytic leukemia two years ago this week.

Family and friends — both old and new — marked the anniversary with the second annual Team Julia — Fight Like a Girl memorial fundraiser held Aug. 21 at Stony Brook Yacht Club.

Mary Byrne, holding her son, Declan, who sports a Team Julia T-shirt. Photo by Donna Newman
Mary Byrne, holding her son, Declan, who sports a Team Julia T-shirt. Photo by Donna Newman

Julia’s grandparents, Dan and Diane Donahue, are longtime Setauket residents and this is the second year the fundraiser was hosted by the yacht club, where they are members.

The building was filled with supporters of all ages, from infants to senior citizens. Gift baskets were raffled off, T-shirts were sold and donations were accepted. Led by Julia’s parents and grandparents, the event seemed more a celebration of the girl’s life and spirit rather than a memorial.

This support group was an outgrowth of Julia’s compassion for others. Even while undergoing treatment herself, she wanted to make things better for the children around her. So the adults in her life committed to doing just that for Julia.

“Grandma, when I get better … Mommy, when I get better … we have to help these kids,” Diane Donahue recalled her granddaughter saying. She spoke of creating things at the hospital and watching Julia bring them to the child in the next bed, hoping to make him or her smile. “She was a true jewel — way beyond her years,” she said.

Team Julia is all about supporting children and their parents. They create goody bags to distribute at Stony Brook Children’s hospital. They help parents pay bills, and stock the pantry at the hematology/oncology clinic at the hospital with easy meals and snacks to help families through the long chemotherapy and infusion days. They also plan to feed families at Ronald McDonald House. Last year Julia’s father Dave Wilson said they created a prom for the children at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in the city, bringing in lots of dresses for the girls to wear.

Brian Donahue shows off a spider on his face. Photo by Donna Newman
Brian Donahue shows off a spider on his face. Photo by Donna Newman

Julia’s mother Erin Wilson wants to start a group for bereaved parents. She feels there isn’t enough support for the grieving process, as losing a child to cancer usually involves months and months of treatment and hope.

Julia’s grandmother said the group considers educating the public, including representatives and senators in the U.S. Congress, another one of its top priorities.

“I don’t think anybody’s aware of it until they are in it,” Diane Donahue said. “And when you’re in it, it’s not a group you want to belong to, but I’ll tell you what, you can make a difference.”

She joined the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, sent messages to her congressman and lobbied the folks who control the lighting on the Empire State Building to light it up gold, the color symbolizing pediatric cancers. “They’ve made it other colors, but they won’t make it gold for the children,” she said.

According to the National Institute of Health’s website focusing on childhood cancers, an estimated 10,380 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in children aged birth to 14 in the U.S. this year. More than 1,200 children are expected to die from the disease. Pediatric cancer death rates have declined by nearly 70 percent over the past 40 years, but cancer remains the leading cause of death from disease among children.