Going gold for a cause

While the BVNW students and staff normally participate in a Pink Out week leading up to the football game between BVNW and Blue Valley North, this year they participated in a Gold Out week to support pediatric cancer from Aug. 29 to Sept. 2. Read about Gold Out and how it has impacted BVNW community members, in particular, senior Lauren Harding and her family.

Anna Cowden and Xiqing Wang

Robbie Harding, senior Lauren Harding’s mom, said Lauren was diagnosed with Leukemia on July 30, 2010. She said Lauren also has Down Syndrome, and because of that, Lauren had a much higher risk of developing Leukemia than the average population.

“I had known since she was an infant that she was at risk, but I kind of thought we made it, since she was almost 12,” Robbie said. “ I thought we were in the clear, because it usually hits them at a much younger age. It’s really sneaky. There are no screening tests for pediatric cancer like there is for cervical cancer and breast cancer.”

She said Lauren, due to her diagnosis, missed sixth grade and a large portion of seventh grade. Robbie said she found out that Lauren had relapsed during her sophomore year, forcing her to miss almost all of that year and most of her junior year.

“The first time she was diagnosed, she was really sick,” Robbie said. “She had like a fever of 104 [degrees Fahrenheit]. They couldn’t get it to calm down. She had pneumonia. It was ugly. Then, when they do the really intense [chemotherapy], it just it made her bones hurt. It hurt to walk, she was nauseated, and it really messes with your [Gastrointestinal] tract.”

Robbie said pediatric cancer receives the bulk of its funding from independent organizations geared toward childhood cancer rather than from government-sponsored organizations. Due to the lack of funding for pediatric cancer, she said many of the drugs used to treat patients are 20 to 30-years-old and, in the long term, can have adverse side effects like kidney and liver damage. Robbie said she recently attended a fundraiser for Braden’s Hope for Childhood Cancer, a local organization started by a parent of a child who has cancer. She said she also appreciates how Children’s Mercy Hospital has put more effort into September events, as it is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

“I’ve met a lot of Facebook groups that are always advocating for [increased funding to pediatric cancer],” Robbie said. “It’s kind of starting at the grassroots level of parents…I think a lot of it is just moms and dads getting loud. It seems to be gathering momentum.”  

Robbie said Lauren finishes her treatment at the end of February next year. Afterward, she said Lauren will have to go in once a month for blood work, which will become less frequent as the years pass. Robbie said once Lauren is off of the treatment for five years, she is considered cured of cancer.

Intensive resource teacher Michele Boeding said she has been Lauren’s teacher for four years. She said Lauren is a perseverant and tough individual in her battle with cancer.

“Lauren is just, she is courageous,” Boeding said. “She is a bundle of spirit. She has been through a whole lot, and it seems like she always smiles. She just seems like one of those little girls…she always sees the glass half full. She always looks at the good things.”

Boeding said she supported the Gold Out and thought it was amazing that students fundraised for an area of cancer research that needs more funding. She said events like Gold Week help open people’s eyes and hearts to those with cancer.

Robbie said doing and supporting fundraisers like the Gold Out to spread awareness is a way for the average student to help the fight against cancer. She said the BVNW community, and especially, Boeding, has been kind and supportive of Lauren, and has helped Lauren and their family in a variety of ways throughout Lauren’s diagnosis.

“They did a fundraiser that went to Children’s Mercy [Hospital], and her peer mentors kept in touch with her,” Robbie said. “A few of them would come down to Children’s Mercy in downtown to visit her. They just made it easier.”

Robbie said because Lauren had not been in school, she was not initially aware the school was participating in the Gold Out to support childhood cancer. Upon finding out about it, she said she was very thankful that every year, an increasing number of places and people are aware that September is Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month.

“I was thrilled,” Robbie said. “I walked her into class one morning and I saw the poster [for the Gold Out] and I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is awesome!’ and I was just thinking, ‘I didn’t even ask them to do this.’”

Administrator Tyler Alexander said the football game between BVNW and BVN is normally held  in October, which is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Alexander said this year, that game was scheduled to be played in early September. Due to the change in schedule, instead of the traditional Pink Out week in October during which BVNW fundraises for breast cancer, BVNW participated in a Gold Out week to support pediatric cancer from Aug. 29 to Sept. 2.

Tyler said the BVN activity director contacted him and proposed that the two schools partner in a Gold Out instead of the usual Pink Out, and from there, the Dawg House prepared to sell T-shirts and promote the week.

“[Our goal for the Gold Out was] just to get kids involved and to have kids’ support,” Alexander said. “Since North was the one who originated it, hopefully we held our own in terms of participating and being visible and attending the game and buying the T-shirts.”

Dawg House teacher Meghan Trader said while the Gold Out was technically a DECA-sponsored event to give back to the community, it was mainly run within the confines of the Dawg House class. She said Dawg House staff partnered with the BVN school store in the selling of Gold Out T-shirts, balloons, face paint and other items. She said all of the proceeds from Gold Week went to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

img_6904Jordan Devorak

Like Alexander, Trader said she did not know what to expect during the Gold Out week prior to its occurrence. She said because of this, Dawg House staff members made sure to post flyers around the school and use social media to promote the event.

“Pink week has become such a known thing, and students expected it, so it was hard to say how students would react to Gold Week,” Trader said. “It happened so early in the year, too, so it was hard to get some momentum because school had just started, so all these things were potentially working against us and it required my marketing team to make sure that they were really promoting it.”

In order to maximize fundraising, Trader said Dawg House hosted a pie contest, in which the amount of money raised correlated to a number of administrators who would be “pie-d” during the Homecoming Assembly on Sept. 30. She said in order to “pie” all five administrators – Amy Murphy, Katie Bonnema, Kevin Gerke, Tyler Alexander and Ryan Colburn – students had to raise $1,750. Trader said between t-shirt, balloon, face paint and other sales, BVNW raised over $4,000.

“We had a great response,” Trader said. “The students had brainstormed and talked to administration, so the more money we raised, the more administrators we were able to pie.”

Trader said BVNW hosts a community of competitive students, and that the pie competition alone drove some people to donate. She said while donations were partly made due to the competition, the students and staff at BVNW have a collective concern for giving back to the community.

“That’s really a unique thing about Northwest,” Trader said. “I’ve worked and taught at other schools, and I haven’t seen that at other places. I think that’s something that this school should really be proud about is that they make giving back an important aspect of who we are, as a community, and so I think [the Gold Out] was really well received by students, and we were pleased. Still, it’s going to take more education, and hopefully, we’ll be able to do it next year…and  it’ll be even more of a success.”

Trader said Dawg House decided to cover the cost of the T-shirts and donate them to St. Jude. She said being able to fundraise for pediatric cancer was especially impactful due to an email she received from Robbie shortly after the Gold Out week had ended, relating Lauren’s story of battling pediatric cancer.

“Especially the fact that we have someone on campus that’s been impacted by this, we almost feel like it’s an honor to be able to support cancer research when a student here is dealing with it,” Trader said. “It puts what we did into perspective. It’s not just some random people that we are giving this money to, but it’s impacting people within our family – our Husky family.”

Trader said from hearing about how the Gold Out impacted the Harding family, students will hopefully not only have a greater understanding about the importance of fundraising for a cause but also about making an impact beyond donating to raise awareness.

“It was just a reminder that there is pain, and there is hurt within our family,” Trader said. “The fact that we can support and bring attention to and even come alongside people within our community, I think that makes an impact on kids. As soon as you can put a face to numbers or to names, it just makes it more personal, so the fact that someone is here, it just makes what we do more special and gives more drive for us to do it better and better as years go on.”

During the Gold Out week, Trader said students were able to make an impact not only by donating to a cause but also by spreading awareness for childhood cancer.
“Kids have a strong understanding not just for the fact of raising money, but even just for making an impact beyond that to raise awareness,” Trader said. “Because that was one thing that Lauren’s mom had said was that this particular area of cancer is very underfunded from the government, and to raise those concerns, to raise that awareness so kids can get involved. It’s making sure that they are living in such a way that is giving back, and that’s what we want to motivate kids to do. Life isn’t about us, and if we’re just trekking along and making sure that we’re taking care of just ourselves, then we’re missing so many opportunities to serve and care for other people. That’s what I want my students to see…I want them to give back and to realize that there’s a greater good and a greater purpose for what we do.”