North Side hosts annual holiday party for kids surviving cancer
Two years ago in October, Da’Jon Fitzgerald’s right shoulder swelled up and hurt so much he couldn’t sleep on that side.
“I couldn’t lay on it,” Fitzgerald, 15, recalled Sunday afternoon as he sat on the bleachers at North Side High School with his two friends, Grace Kluesner and Hanne Brandgard, both sophomores at North Side. Fitzgerald once attended North Side but transferred to South Side to be closer to home.
The three were attending the 32nd annual Kids Surviving Cancer party thrown by North Side staff and student volunteers. Santa, or Dennis Fisher, a North Side science teacher, and his student volunteers dressed up in holiday party attire passed out nearly 65 books and gifts to cancer survivors and their siblings in the school’s auditorium.
Fisher said $25 gift certificates to Target were also given.
The gifts were distributed after the children and their families were entertained by Dance V, the school’s performing dance troupe.
Da’Jon couldn’t help but enjoy the day. Besides eating a spaghetti dinner and salad with plenty of Christmas treats to go around, there was entertainment by the school’s Wave of Distinction show choir and prizes.
Da’Jon’s mother, Jamia Fitzgerald, was also there with her daughters, Da’Jinay Fitzgerald, a 2018 South Side graduate, and Sa’Niah Whitehorn, a Memorial Park Middle School student.
Jamia Fitzgerald had already been diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2016 when her son was rushed to Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis for treatment after a blood test confirmed his cancer. He was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, which is now in remission, they said.
Both the Fitzgeralds and the rest of the families depend on Cancer Services of Northeast Indiana for all kinds of help, they said.
Christian Black, now 4, had a swollen eye that wasn’t healing right two years ago. At least, that’s what it seemed like to his parents, Kyle and Arielle Black. When a blood test at the doctor confirmed cancer, the then 2-year-old was taken to Riley Children’s Hospital the next day, Kyle Black said at the party.
Christian was diagnosed with ALL, a type of leukemia that now has a 90 percent survival rate, something Kyle Black called “lucky.”
The couple says they have also been lucky that both sets of parents, their church - Cedar Creek Church - and their places of work have come to their aid.
Arielle is a hair stylist with a loyal clientele who accommodates her schedule. Kyle is a physical education instructor at Oak Farm Montessori School that he says has been very understanding about doctor appointments and the needs of the family.
During flu season, the family has to be extra careful. A body fever can mean the risk of an infection for Christian, Kyle said, and something the family always takes into consideration when thinking about attending parties or other events.
Cancer Services has been helpful with emotional and mental issues with Christian and the rest of the family. Older brother Micah, 6, needs help understanding why his younger brother needs more attention at times, Arielle Black said.
Cancer, Arielle says, is a “roller coaster. We’ve come to them (Cancer Services) with problems not only with Christian’s physical needs but his emotional and mental health needs and also with our own emotional health needs. They’ve been a huge support.”
Cancer Services offers free massages and counseling, Kyle Black said.
This year, Cassidy DeCook, a special education teacher at North Side, was the coordinator of the event that relies on fundraising and volunteers to pull it off.
“She’s a great candidate for this position,” Elizabeth Sherman, the school treasurer, said.
Ann Hathaway, Cancer Services program director, and Laura Markham, the nonprofit’s children’s advocate, gave all the credit to the school.
“It’s totally North Side’s project. We provide the families and they do everything else,” Markham said.