By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Hudson – Participating in a new program called Cheer for Dana-Farber, cheerleaders and students in kindergarten through fourth grade at Mulready Elementary School displayed their spirit Nov. 6 for Pajama Day to benefit the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The fundraiser was organized by Stacey Hartford, whose two youngest sons, Dominic and Jacob, are childhood cancer survivors.
“I was doubly blessed to have both boys become survivors,” Stacey said.? “I's like to raise as much money as possible for other children so that their lives can be saved, just like my boys.”
Jacob is a third-grader; Dominic is a second-grader and plays with Hudson Youth Football. In September, Stacey partnered with Dominic's football team during a home game to raise funds and awareness for pediatric cancer care. Proceeds from a 50/50 raffle went to the Jimmy Fund Clinic at Dana-Farber.
That's when Stacey heard about Cheer for Dana-Farber, a new program in which youth cheerleaders from throughout New England are collecting donations. Cheerleading teams who raise at least $1,000 will be entered into a drawing for a chance to perform a pre-game routine Sunday, Dec. 29, when the New England Patriots host the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium.
Funds raised at the recent Pajama Day and other donations will go toward Hudson Youth Cheerleading's contributions for Cheer for Dana-Farber. Stacey appreciates the eager response from her sons” peers.
“A lot of kids heard about Dominic and Jacob when we did our first fundraiser, and they were so excited about wanting to try to make a difference for other kids,” she said. “They went out and collected money because they don's want to see other kids get sick.”
This is also an opportunity for children to learn a valuable growing-up lesson.
“It opens their eyes to realize that there are kids who have cancer,” Stacey noted. “They probably hear about parents or grandparents who might have cancer, but they'se really quite surprised when they hear that kids their age have it. They might not have seen children who are sick because some stay at home or are in a hospital.”
Dominic was three-months-old when he was diagnosed with pleuropulmonary blastoma, a rare type of childhood lung tumor. Only days later, Jacob, then 18 months, was diagnosed with the same form of cancer. Stacey took them to Dana-Farber.
“It was hard having two kids in the hospital at the same time with the surgeries,” Stacy recalled, “but everyone there was really accommodating and made sure I was able to spend time with both of them.”
Surgeons removed a small cystic tumor from Jacob. Dominic's cancer was more aggressive. After having one lung removed, he was treated with chemotherapy for a year. They'se both been cancer-free for six years and visit their pediatric oncologist for checkups every two years.
“The doctors at Dana-Farber were our lifeline and they still are,” Stacey said. “I know that if I's worried, I can call them and they'sl see my boys to make sure they'se okay.”
Dominic and Jacob are now living healthy like their siblings: Anthony, 13, Shanelle, 18, and Darnell, 19. And now, Dominic enjoys playing football like his brother Darnell.
“Playing football gives Dominic the ability to enjoy his life and run around like everybody else,” Stacey said. “He gets to be like his older brother, Darnell, and that's so much fun for him.”
Donations for Hudson Youth Cheerleading's effort for Cheer for Dana-Farber can be brought or mailed to Mulready Elementary School, Attention: Cheer for Dana-Farber, 306 Cox Street, Hudson, MA 01749. Make checks payable to the Jimmy Fund. Donations must be received by Friday, Nov. 22.