Cal Hills’ students fighting cancer one dollar at a time

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Photo and article submitted by Shannon Carr from the Milpitas Unified School District 

When Calaveras Hills High School Principal Carl Stice takes to the track for Relay for Life on April 28 at Townsend Field in Santa Clara, he will be joined in solidarity with more than 30 students (nearly a third of the school’s population) and staff members, cheering him on. The first lap of Relay is called the Survivor Lap, when survivors and people currently affected by cancer walk the track to be cheered and supported by everyone in attendance.

“I actually cried in front of the students when explaining how much it will mean to me to have them there during the Survivor Lap,” Stice said.

Stice found out he had squamous cell carcinoma in his throat and mouth in 2003, at the age of 33.

“I had a sore throat that would not go away, and upon finally going to the doctor, he said, ‘This looks like a tumor,” Stice recalls. “I was sent to get an immediate biopsy and it came back that it was cancer the next day.”

Because it was an aggressive cancer, Stice had to undergo both chemo and radiation simultaneously. He was in treatment for five months. He has been cancer free since treatments ended in 2004.

“It is like a full circle for me – something that caused so much pain in my life has given me a new appreciation for life, and to have students and staff be there will be incredible,” Stice said. “I am also walking in honor of my sister, who died of cancer a few years ago at 49 years old.”

Not only will the students be standing by Stice’s side during the event, but they are currently fighting cancer one dollar at a time by fundraising for Relay, being held 10 a.m. Saturday, April 28 through 10 a.m. Sunday, April 29. The “Cal-Hills Mustangs” group has raised $3,857.73 to date – with a goal of $4,000 – for the 24-hour walking event that raises money and awareness about cancer prevention, research, and services through the American Cancer Society.

“We are actually one of the highest grossing teams for the whole Relay right now,” said Cal Hills teacher and Relay coordinator Tabitha Kappeler-Hurley. They are six out of 30 teams.  “That’s really, really good, and it’s all due to the kids’ dedication.”

Fundraising kicked off with a community dinner, where the students explained what and why they are participating in the cause, and has also included speaking in front of the district’s administrators, a bake sale, selling luminarias, asking for donations from District Office employees, staff emails, and personal asks.

“They’re doing it from their heart, but they’re also learning how to fundraise, how to talk with administrators. It’s really becoming a larger project than I thought,” Kappeler-Hurley said.

She led the effort in getting students involved for a variety of reasons.

“Relay is really one of the most accessible community service type big events that you guys can do as students,” Kappeler-Hurley said. “Some are big like Avon Breast Cancer Walk, Susan G. Komen. You have to raise thousands of dollars. But with Relay, you only have to raise $100. So that’s number one; it’s really easy to feel like that’s possible. But the biggest reason is because I knew so many of them had connections to cancer through family and friends. And it empowers you to know you can do something to fight cancer. It’s also a really fun event.”

Seniors Leslie Magallon and “Kal”mintas Kupciunas and junior Jamina Williams shared their firsthand experience preparing for the event, their first time being a part of the cause.

“I want to help people,” Magallon said. She shared that her sophomore year, she was lucky to have the doctor’s detect and treat what would have later evolved into cancer.

Williams said her uncle has cancer, and she also knows some family and friends who have the disease.

While Kupciunas doesn’t know anyone directly impacted by cancer, he is excited to see the amount of people getting behind such a good cause.

Kappeler-Hurley said it is her 10th year participating in Relay for Life.

“Relay is incredibly important to me,” she said. “I have lost multiple friends and family members, and have lots of family members who have dealt with cancer. So cancer is around me all the time.”

Kappeler-Hurley is joined with four other staff members who are leading the fundraiser: Kimi Schmidt, Sridaya Mandyam-Komar, Raquel Mendoza, and Betty Won.

“Although I mentioned the four teachers who are leading the Relay effort, this has truly been a school and staff-wide effort,” Kappeler-Hurley emphasized. “All (and I mean all) of the teachers have donated, and most are coming during the Relay for a few hours to help chaperone. The teachers and staff are really into the cause and supporting the students in this effort.”

 

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