Walk raises $8,000 for pediatric cancer research

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BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Bloomfield held its first walk to raise money for pediatric cancer research on Sunday, Sept. 18. It was called “Go for Gold for Pediatric Cancer” and was a trip of 3 miles that started at the Bloomfield Oakeside Cultural Center, on Belleville Avenue.
A total of 194 men, women and children, and four dogs, left en masse, at about 10 a.m. The weather was perfect.
The group took Williamson Avenue to Liberty Street and headed for the Green where the route was mapped out in a zigzag fashion. Returning to Oakeside in much smaller groups, or twos and threes, the finishers were offered apples, bananas and water.

Coordinating the event was Bloomfield resident Maryanne Macaluso, whose daughter, Megan, died three years ago from a form of pediatric cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma. According to Macaluso, this is a rare form of cancer that grows in soft tissue.

“All pediatric cancers are considered rare,” she said. “But this cancer is especially rare in teenagers and young adults.”

Megan was 19 when she died. She attended Oak View Elementary School, Bloomfield Middle School and St. Mary’s High School, in Rutherford.

Macaluso, who graduated from Bloomfield High School in 1978, said it was her understanding that Bloomfield was the only municipality in the area which
recognized pediatric cancer with a fundraising event. Nationwide, September is recognized as Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month. But Macaluso said the walk was not intended to be a memorial for her daughter.

“What got the ball rolling was Kim Reilly,” she said. “Kim asked me if it would be a good idea for a pediatric walk. I thought it was a great idea. Pediatric cancer is under-funded.”

The money that was raised was to be donated to Cycle for Survival, an organization which sponsors events to raise money for research against rare forms of cancer. Reilly is the director of the Bloomfield Oakeside Cultural Center.

“Cycle for Survival is unique,” Macaluso said. “One-hundred percent of its money goes to research labs. We negotiated with them so that it would all to children.”

One of the walkers on Sunday was Dr. Michael LaQuaglia, chief pediatric surgeon at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, in New York City, where Megan was treated. LaQuaglia, a family friend of the Macalusos, is a former Bloomfield resident now living in Montclair. He was promoted from Sacred Heart School in 1964. His brother, Alan, is the chairman of the Bloomfield Planning Board.
LaQuaglia said the type of cancer Megan had is particularly hard to treat.

“A lot of deep research is needed to understand this disease and find out new ways to attack it,” he said. “Now we use chemotherapy and radiation. But a lot of tumors in kids have a genetic change. Understanding the tumor and attacking its weakness is a more rational way to treat the tumor.”

LaQuaglia said pediatric cancers are unlike other forms of cancer. He explained that a person could have tumors throughout their lungs without having yet developed lung cancer. This is not so with pediatric cancers.

“In pediatric cancer, it usually starts as one mutation,” he said.
But the same single, cancerous mutation could happen to an adult, he said, so that the term “pediatric cancer” is not an age-related cancer but a category of cancer.

“But pediatric cancers have two spikes,” he said. “One is when the person is 1 year old and the other when they are in their teens.”

Reilly said she thought of the walk because Macaluso had been struggling for years to get recognition for pediatric cancer research.

“We go back a long ways,” Reilly said. “I thought, What could we do in Bloomfield?”

Earlier this week, Reilly reported that $8,000 was raised by the Oakeside walk.
“We were thrilled,” she said.