Hundreds of hands shot into the air last week when Linda McMaster, a parent in the district, asked Plymouth-Canton Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Academy students if they knew what the iconic pink cancer ribbon meant.
She watched, unsurprised, as every single hand dropped when her slide presentation changed to a gold ribbon. Nobody knew that the gold ribbon represents childhood cancer awareness - a campaign near and dear to her heart.
McMaster's daughter Lisa battled neuroblastoma for five years before finally succumbing to the disease in May. She was 8-years-old.
McMaster along with STEM junior and cancer survivor Christine Wall told their stories to nearly 400 students Thursday, urging them to help raise money for a fundraiser to support childhood cancer research and awareness.
According to McMaster, less than 5 percent of the federal government's total funding for cancer research is dedicated to childhood cancers each year. She described traveling to St. Jude Hospital with her daughter in September - Childhood Cancer Awareness Month - and seeing zero gold ribbons. Yet the very next month, in October, the entire airport was decorated in pink for breast cancer.
"It really started to get to me and I thought we need to do more," McMaster said. "We need to raise awareness so we can raise funding for our kids."
STEM Academy Leader Danielle Ramos said the STEM leadership group settled on childhood cancer as its community service project this year because cancer hits home. Wall battled a malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor while another STEM student fought leukemia when he was younger, Ramos said.
The STEM Academy at The Park has two pathways - engineering and biomedical. And because the fundraiser last year focused on the engineering element, raising money to purchase 47 engineering toys for girls called
GoldiBlox and delivering them to district elementary schools, Ramos said they wanted to focus on a bio-medical project this year.
The group is working with Columbus, Ohio-based fundraising consultant Century Resources, Inc., to raise at least $10,000 by selling a variety of food and snack items, as well as an assortment of sweets.
Ramos said the goal may be to raise $10,000, but her goal is for her students to raise $15,000.
Wall said her cancer is the reason why she is in the biomedical STEM program.
"It's completely changed who I am and how I act," she said. "When I was younger, I never talked, I was so shy. Now I'm talking in front of large groups of people. I used to be really squeamish - I couldn't even handle a shot. Now I don't even feel it anymore."
Wall still suffers the effects of her cancer treatment to this day.
"People ask me is your cancer gone and I say, yes, the tumor's gone," she said. "But I'm still living with the effects that my treatment has given me. I had surgery and I only have about one lung... my sternum is fake, I have fake ribs. I can't do sports anymore. I can't physically handle it - my body gets tired too quickly."
Wall says she also suffers from arthritis, scoliosis and was told by her doctors that she will most likely develop heart disease before she reaches the age of 30, all because of her treatments.
“We need better treatment and more awareness,” Wall said. “Even if a kid survives, we still have to deal with this every day.”
For more information on how to get involved in the STEM fundraiser or to donate to the cause, contact Ramos at Danielle.Ramos@pccsmail.net.