A few days before he was scheduled to return to the Beacon Christian Academy, 7-year-old Kristofer Marquez learned the bad news: the cancer he had first contracted at 18 months old – called Rhabdomyosarcoma – had returned.
This is a cancer, according to his older sister, Katriel, of the muscle tissue. To treat the cancer the first time, she said her brother underwent chemotherapy for almost a year.
“I was only four years old when it happened,” she said. “My grandparents took care of me most of the time so that my parents could be with my brother during his treatment. I remember my brother was always going to the hospital, and sometimes my mom would stay there with him for a few days. Everyone in our church prayed for Kristofer, even those in the Philippines.”
She said after treatments concluded, doctors ran tests and found him cancer free.
“I am happy we are doing this because it will help children who are sick like my brother.” — Katriel Marquez
Earlier this year – five years later – the cancer reappeared.
“My father noticed another lump on his left arm,” Katriel said. “My parents took him back to his doctor, and they found the cancer had come back. My brother is now seven years old, and he is undergoing chemo treatment that will last for 54 weeks. He is not able to go to school this year because the medicines that he will receive make him weak. We are all praying that God will heal my brother again so that he will be able to go back to school.”
She said one additional burden on her brother is that he is unable to see his friends at school. Katriel, who is also a student at Beacon, tries to help fill the gap in her brother’s life when she goes home by playing games with him. So do their parents.
“He’s always calling for us to come play with him,” she said. “I also try to look out for him.”
Helping a friend in need
Katriel joined the staff and fellow students to raise funds to donate to cancer research in what they called Hats On Day, which was started in 1995 when a young Missouri boy faced similar circumstances. The event in Beacon is designed to show support for the missing student and to raise money to help him battle the disease.
National organizers say that wearing hats for Hats On Day creates a welcoming, supportive environment for kids fighting cancer. Because treatment often causes a cancer patient to lose his or her hair, many times the patient is the only person in the school wearing a hat. By having all or most students wearing hats as well, the cancer-sufferer feels less isolated.
“We did some research on the Internet to see what we could do here in school,” said Connie Maksel, a member of the Parent Teacher Fellowship at Beacon. “When we heard about Kristofer, we wanted to do something, and we found this.”
The program is designed to show support for Kristofer, as well as promote class discussions and awareness of childhood cancer, and raise money to improve the quality of life for children with the disease.
“We are donating the money to the Foundation for Children with Cancer,” Katriel said. “I am happy we are doing this because it will help children who are sick like my brother.”
Although the whole school – about 100 students – was involved in the fundraising, about two-thirds of the students from pre-K to 8th grade wore hats, said Laurie Beicht, another member of the Parent Teacher Fellowship.
The statistics are staggering. More than 12,400 children are diagnosed with cancer each year, according to Childrencancer.org. The average age at time of diagnosis is 6 years old. Even beyond this, one in 3,000 boys will develop cancer by age 20, as will one in 333 girls. But 8 out of 10 children who are diagnosed can be successfully treated. But this means that children are living longer with the cancer, and families face serious economic difficulties.
The students at Beacon wore an assortment of hats, and raised more than $323. While many wore firefighter helmets, baseball caps, and other kinds of headgear, Katriel wore one of her mother’s hats.
“I knew I wanted to wear it today,” she said.