Westborough resident works to fight cancer with ‘Sciarappa Strong’ efforts

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Pauline Sciarappa (left) poses for a photo with her daughter, Corinne (right). (Photo/Submitted)

WESTBOROUGH – In 2015, Corinne Sciarappa was diagnosed with alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare and aggressive pediatric soft tissue cancer. 

While Corinne was undergoing treatment, her family was grateful for the research and care being done at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and wanted to find a way to help support it.

Now, though Corinne passed in 2019 when she was 18, work continues as her mother, Pauline, has repeatedly captained the “Sciarappa Strong” walking team in the annual Jimmy Fund Walk to benefit Dana Farber. 

“She really had a strong vision for helping make our world a better place, and I’m trying my best to honor her and to carry that type of work forward,” Pauline said of Corinne. “I’m hopeful that with the funds that we raise that they’ll find better treatments for the type of cancer that Corinne had and hopefully one day a cure because currently there is not a cure.”

Mother honored with ‘Alumni Team Captain of the Year’ title

Corinne was very sick in her first year of treatment. Pauline, in kind, was constantly by her side supporting her. 

Pauline’s husband and a family friend first participated in the Jimmy Fund Walk that year.

The following year, Pauline joined, herself.

“I wanted to try to walk, and while I was walking I met some people that I know from our town and they walked with me,” Pauline said. “So it was not entirely planned.”

The next year Pauline made an effort to form a team including friends, coworkers and family members. The team eventually grew to around 50 people, with whom Pauline has continued to walk each year since.

This next Jimmy Fund trek will take place Oct. 2 on the Boston Marathon route.

Ahead of that event, earlier this year, Pauline was named alumni team captain of the year after being nominated by four team members.

She said that she was surprised and touched to have been nominated, and that it made her “feel proud to be able to help bring our team spirit to light.”

Family organizes blood drives

In addition to fundraising for the walk, Pauline and her family have also hosted blood drives for years, continuing work that they began after it became clear that Corrine would have to receive many blood transfusions as part of her treatment.

The blood drives started after the Sciarappa family partnered with the Red Cross. When the Red Cross stopped hosting drives west of Hopkinton, the family started hosting them, instead, with Boston Children’s Hospital through its bloodmobile parked at Tatnuck Bookseller.

“It’s just a really powerful feeling to know that you’re helping families in a way that’s irreplaceable,” Pauline said. “There’s no substitute for a blood donation. They can create medications and insulin and all sorts of drugs, but there’s no substitute for human blood.”

Pauline described Corinne as a passionate supporter of social justice issues with a keen interest in the sciences. She was one of 100 students chosen nationwide to receive the Emperor Science Award and secured an internship, which she asked to do with Dana Farber.

At Dana Farber, Corinne worked in a lab doing research on melanoma.

“She wasn’t an intern getting coffee for people,” Pauline said. “She was a valued participant in Dr. [Rizwan] Haq’s lab.”

Pauline said that Corinne loved the theater and music. While undergoing treatment, Corinne learned how to play the guitar and the ukulele.

Corinne was also an artist, her mother said, creating a rainbow diamond design as part of a Home Goods promotion for Jimmy Fund patients to create designs to be printed on bags and sold for donations. Corinne’s design was chosen in 2018, and Pauline said they now include it on homemade cards they have made when asking for donations at farmer’s markets.

“It’s another way for us to share Corinne’s art and for people to learn a little bit more about Corinne and the significance of making a donation,” Pauline said. 

This year they have been at the Natick farmers market, and will be at the Westborough farmers market throughout the summer. 

Donations to Sciarappa Strong can be made on its fundraising page or on Pauline’s personal fundraising page at https://tinyurl.com/4cnrysve.