Mayor Thomas Bernard and Superintendent Barbara Malkas explain the school's participation in the Sandy Hook Promise and invite the community to say 'hello' to students on Sept. 27.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city is recognizing September as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and Sept. 23-27 as Start With Hello Week, an initiative of the Sandy Hook Promise.
Mayor Thomas Bernard read the proclamations at Tuesday's City Council meeting.
Worldwide, a child is diagnosed with cancer every two minutes and every day five children in the United States die of cancer, he read, but even successful treatments can lead to other problems.
The average survival rate is now 80 percent but most of those children continue to experience chronic health problems or severe or life-threatening conditions.
The news is worse for certain childhood brain cancers — the survival rate is still less than 1 percent. Yet brain cancer research barely accounts for 4 percent of federal research funding.
The mayor called "on all residents to support the efforts of the AYJ Fund and other supporters to increase awareness of and advocacy for childhood cancer research, in order to provide more effective treatments, and to work toward curing childhood and all cancers."
The AYJ Fund is named for Anna Yan Ji Arabia, a Drury High School student who was diagnosed with gliomatosis cerebri at age 13 in 2009; she died four years later.
A significant amount of research is happening on this rare brain cancer thanks to the founders of the fund, Anna's parents Joseph and Kathy Arabia.
"This is so much more than just a piece of paper to us," Kathy Arabia said of the mayor's proclamation. "The support and the awareness is so critical for children with cancer and their families, and making the difference in changing these numbers.
"These numbers are shocking. But they're also children's names to us. We know the children, our daughter was one of the less-than-1 percent where there was no chance of biological survival."
Arabia said the support of "this amazing community" is helping make a difference in raising funds for research for children and families dealing with this cancer.
"The decisions that these children are making, that these families are making on whether to continue treatment, how long, what type, and how we can make a difference is just devastating and extremely challenging to these families," she said.
Locally, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is lighting the upside-down trees gold for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and the AYJ Fund is hosting its annual Corn Hole Tournament on Saturday at the Armory. Arabia said the business and local community has given tremendous support to the event. Find out more about the tournament here.
Joseph Arabia said the couple will be heading to Barcelona, Spain, on Sept. 22-23 to conduct their third international research conference on gliomatosis cerebri.
"There we'll bring 40 great oncologists, researchers and Ph.Ds to review what we've done since 2017 at [the National Institutes of Health] where our last conference was, where we're going to go in the next two years," he said. "We've been seeing significant progress over the last six years."
Kathy Arabia said awareness of the issue was important and thanked the community for its ongoing support.
"It helps us with advocating at a national level and making a difference so that we can increase funding for research and really make a difference for these kids," she said.
The second proclamation dealt with the School Department's second year participating in the Sandy Hook Promise with the focus of reducing children's feeling of isolation, preventing bullying and making school a welcoming place.
"Last year was a bit of a learning experience. It really built some great energy, some great attention. And I think we're poised to really build on that," said the mayor.
This year the week will start out with a visit from Attorney General Maura Healey.
Superintendent of Schools Barbara Malkas said the schools have received funding through Healey's office to do additional training for Start With Hello and to raise awareness within the schools and the community about the program as a means to prevent social isolation and violence.
"The attorney general will be joining us on Monday [Sept. 23] for our Wear Green Day," she said. "We wear green in honor of Sandy Hook Elementary School, green and white were their colors."
Healey will be meeting with Drury High students "to have a very broad discussion around some of the issues that are concerning our students but also getting student perspective," Malkas said.
The Wednesday of that week will be Walk to School Day at the three elementary schools.
"And on Friday, we will be inviting every community member — I know the City Council received their special invitation — hoping that you will come to join us and be at our schools to help greet our students.
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