Folks wanting to help advance childhood cancer research will have a unique opportunity to make an impact on Saturday, Sept. 14, at Partner’s II Pizza in Peachtree City, as the popular restaurant hosts a St. Baldrick’s Foundation fund raiser that offers everything from raffles and face paintings to free popcorn, fire trucks and head shavings. A little something for everyone.
The event will run from 2-5 p.m. at the restaurant, which is located on the northeast corner of the intersection of Hwy. 54 and Northlake Drive in Peachtree City.
Christy Coholich, who works on staff at a nursing home in Fayetteville, got the idea to head up the fundraiser after her best friend’s son, now three years old, was diagnosed with Stage Four Neuroblastoma at only 21 months old. She says the diagnosis alone has turned their world upside down, not to mention going through all of the treatments with young Elijah. Raising money for childhood cancer, Coholich says, is one way she and her friends can show support for other families also going through these experiences.
Elijah’s birth was normal, says his mother Emily Kimaru, who with her husband Paul live in nearby Hampton. There was nothing to warn them of what was to come. “He was never sick as a baby,” she said.
One day, Elijah stopped walking, stopped eating and wouldn’t stop crying. Elijah was taken to his pediatrician where he was preliminarily diagnosed with possible appendicitis and referred to Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital in Atlanta. They performed a chest X-ray and called it pneumonia, because the saw a shadow in his lung area.
Elijah’s symptoms did not subside, and he was taken back to the pediatrician. This time, they sent the 21-month-old boy to Egleston Children’s Hospital, also in Atlanta. They performed an ultrasound, looking at Elijah’s appendix, and that’s when the cancerous tumor was found near one of his kidneys.
“He was admitted that night,” Kimaru remembers. “Two days later, he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, which they said had already spread to his leg bones.”
Since that diagnosis, Elijah has undergone six rounds of chemotherapy, 12 rounds of radiation therapy, five antibody treatments two stem cell transplants and a two-and-a-half-hour surgery to remove his right kidney along with the tumor.
“He’s my hero, seeing him go through all of this,” Coholich said. “No child should have to go through this.”
Coholich says she hopes the upcoming St. Baldrick’s Foundation fund raiser at Partner’s II Pizza will raise at least $2,500, all of which will be used toward childhood cancer research. While most activities other than the raffle will be free of charge, donations will be gratefully accepted.
Elijah and his parents will be there along with other volunteers, including Coholich’s coworker Rosalind Lowery, a licensed hair dresser who will perform the free head shavings at the event.
Coholich explains that many people shave their heads when a child they love goes through certain cancer treatment regimens, such as chemotherapy, when the child will lose his hair in the process. It’s an act of solidarity, she says.
Coholich had her hair shaved at a St. Baldrick’s Foundation fund raiser last year in honor of Elijah.
These days, Elijah’s hair is full and healthy again, so Coholich says she will forego the head-shaving opportunity this time, but she indicates she would do it again if it would encourage her little friend.
“That little boy means the world to me,” she said. “He’s a happy, bouncing-off-the-walls three year-old.”
According to Kimaru, her son’s treatments seemed to have worked, including the trial treatments he receives in North Carolina every three months. But he won’t be considered “out of the woods” until his cancer stays in remission for five years.
“Right now, they say ‘no evidence of disease’,” Kimaru said. She also says there is a high relapse rate. She said Elijah began treatments with a 20-percent chance of being cured.
Kimaru says she is grateful for friends like Coholich who will step up to raise awareness and funding for childhood cancer research. “It needs more attention,” she said. “Pediatric cancer research is something that is underfunded.”
While there may be fewer youth suffering with cancer than older people, Kimaru notes that cancer in young people is often more aggressive and less researched. Side effects can also be more severe in younger people.
Kimaru says she is grateful Elijah is seemingly in the clear at the moment. She says he has enjoyed participating in various cancer research fund raisers, adding, “He likes to be in the spotlight.”
Elijah will get a little more of that spotlight at the Sept. 14 fund raiser.
For more information about St. Baldrick’s Foundation, or to make a donation, visit www.StBaldricks.org.