BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The Oakeside Bloomfield Cultural Center hosted its 3rd annual Pediatric Cancer Walk on Sunday, Sept. 30. Organizing the event were Kim Reilly, director of the center, and Jess Wells, a pediatric cancer nurse.
Approximately 100 individuals registered to walk a three-mile loop from Oakeside, through Bloomfield Center, and back. More individuals registered on the morning of the journey and there were an additional 30 business sponsoring the walk. Most of these sponsors were from Bloomfield and a few from Belleville.
The weather was perfect and Bloomfield High School had a large group of players and cheerleaders from BHS sports teams who were present.
Bengals squads were on hand several weeks ago, too, at Brookdale Park for a suicide awareness walk. The students were alerted to participate in the cancer walk by BHS junior and cheerleader Anna Haraka who texted team captains. Anna has participated in all the pediatric walks at Oakeside. Proceeds from the walk on Sunday will to be donated to another athletic fundraiser, “Cycle for Survival,” which fights rare forms of cancer. The Cycle for Survival team that will be receiving credit for the Oakeside donation is “Megan’s Miracle Makers,” named for Megan Macaluso, a Bloomfield resident who died in 2013 at age 19 from a form of pediatric cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma. Megan attended Oak View Elementary School, Bloomfield Middle School and St. Mary’s High School, in Rutherford. Her parents, Mark and Marianne, attended the walk. They are BHS graduates, Class of 1977 and 1978, respectively.
Former Bloomfield resident Michael LaQuaglia, a pediatric surgeon and Megan’s physician, also attended the walk. He set out with all the other walkers and returned among the top five or six finishers. He said much research for pediatric cancer is being done with immunotherapy and genetic research. Pediatric cancer has an 80 percent survival rate, he said, unless the cancer is metastasized and then the survival rate is zero.
A prenatal ultrasound examination might determine the child will be born with cancer. LaQuaglia, who grew up on Berkeley Avenue, works at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
In a previous interview with this newspaper, LaQuaglia said pediatric cancers are unlike other forms of cancer, explaining 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 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.”
Returning walkers on Sunday were provided with bananas and apples. Helping with the hand outs was Demarest Elementary School principal Mary Todaro.
Also attending the walk was Abigail Mehring, a seventh-grader at Bloomfield Middle School and a cancer survivor. Abigail officially started the walk and completed the loop in her wheelchair. She attended the event with her parents, James and Lyn, and sister, Rebecca, a fourth-grader at Demarest. September is Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month.