By Sue Wambolt, Contributing Writer
Northborough/Southborough – Algonquin Regional High School (ARHS) seniors Sophia Jessiman and Maddie Collins are much more than classmates and friends. Both are cancer survivors who will be participating in the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk Sunday, Sept. 27. The event is the nation’s largest single-day fundraiser, whose mission is to raise money for pediatric and adult patient care and cancer research.
Jessiman and Collins met in middle school and became fast friends, their shared cancer diagnosis creating a powerful bond.
“It is such a unique thing we share. It’s hard to explain, but being cancer survivors brings us closer together,” said Jessiman.
“It’s a unique bond that we share,” added Collins. “We both know what it’s like to have gone through a tough experience. We always support each other in any way possible.”
In 2000 Jessiman was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare cancer that forms in the body’s soft tissues. She underwent surgery to remove the soft tissue tumor followed by a full year of weekly chemotherapy. Treatments began as weekly outpatient visits but changed to multiple weeks of inpatient treatment on the Children’s Hospital oncology floor.
Jessiman and her family first participated in the Jimmy Fund walk in 2001. In the year that followed, they created their own team, calling it Sophia’s Smiles.
“The walk is always a fun day that I look forward to,” said Jessiman. “It is always nice hearing other people’s stories, getting to know strangers along the route and even running into old friends. It is important to me to be able to give back and stay involved with the Jimmy Fund.”
In 2012 Collins was diagnosed with leukemia (AML). She underwent aggressive chemotherapy including six months of inpatient treatment at Children’s Hospital. Upon the completion of chemotherapy, Collins spent a month at St. Jude’s Hospital for a natural killer (NK) cell transplant.
Collins participated in her first Jimmy Fund was in 2014 after being asked by Jessiman to join the Sophia’s Smiles team.
“I was excited to join and glad to have another opportunity to give back,” she said.
Participating in the Jimmy Fund walk has meant a great deal to the girls.
“I feel empowered to be among other survivors. It is also important to me because I want other people to have the same outcome I had. It’s like a family of sorts coming together to do good,” said Collins.
The duo is trying to rally support and enter the event with their biggest team to date. They also have fundraising goals that they hope to reach and, hopefully, surpass.
“I would like to reach the pacesetter fundraising goal of $1500 since I will be going to college next year and it is likely my last year walking for a while,” Jessiman said. “I would like to raise as much as possible now to finish off the tradition on a high note.”
Collins echoed her friend’s sentiments.
“We are trying to gather our friends to join us this year and raise as much money as possible,” she said. “We hope to make it a memorable experience before we all go off to college.”
On Sept. 27 the girls will walk the 26.2 mile Boston Marathon course as a show of solidarity and as cancer survivors to honor friends, family and patients such as themselves who have conquered and are facing all forms of cancer.
To donate to Sophia’s Smiles, visit the team fundraising page www.jimmyfundwalk.org/2015/sophiassmiles.