WOHS alumnus takes lead role in fundraising pediatric cancer research

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — Michael McCullom was only a few months away from graduating from West Orange High School this past winter when he was diagnosed with a rare sarcoma, forcing him to be tutored from home so he could begin chemotherapy treatments. Now, the former Marching Mountaineers drumline captain just finished his last round of chemo and is moving into radiation treatment. The WOHS alumnus also became a New Jersey Cancer Ambassador to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

When customers check their groceries out at Stop & Shop, they’ll have the opportunity to donate $1, $3 or $5 to MSK’s pediatrics department. The goal is to raise $1.25 million for pediatric cancer research, which will be added to the $24 million the program has already raised.

“It brings more awareness to pediatric cancer,” McCullom said in a phone interview with the West Orange Chronicle on Aug. 30. “When people think about cancer, they think about older people. So being public about it allows us to be more vocal and raise money, because all pediatric cancer is considered rare.”

Lori McCullom, Michael McCullom’s mother, said in a phone interview with the Chronicle on Aug. 30 that most money raised for cancer research doesn’t get funneled into pediatric cancer. More resources are used for adult cancer, so the pediatric department needs specific fundraising focus.

“Mike’s cancer is relatively rare, so there haven’t been a lot of cases,” Kevin McCullom, Michael McCullom’s father, said in a phone interview with the Chronicle on Aug. 30. “There haven’t been a lot of cases, so there hasn’t been a lot of research. But there’s still a lot of people with cancer that need help.”

The whole month is being dedicated to pediatric cancer fundraising and research, something that is important to moving toward a cure.

“The research is pretty important,” Lori McCullom said. “With Michael’s cancer, there were about 400 other cases. But the research has changed a lot; they’re doing things differently even from a year ago. So we want to keep searching and move toward a cure.”

There isn’t a treatment plan specifically tailored to Michael McCullom’s type of cancer, so his doctors have gone with the one that matches most closely.

He had to defer his acceptance to Elon University to continue with his treatment, but Michael McCollum has kept up a positive attitude throughout his illness.

“I just take it as it comes,” he said. “I’ve gotten so much support. They’re so kind at that hospital and the energy is something you don’t see at every hospital.”

Michael McCullom also highlighted the support that he’s gotten from everyone in West Orange, especially WOHS Principal Hayden Moore and Band Director Lew Kelly. Even when he was no longer going to school on WOHS’ campus every day, he was picking up his drum sticks for band performances when he could.

WOHS performers also made their annual fundraising concert benefit MSK in honor of their classmate. Dubbed “Concert for a Cure,” band, choir, winter color guard and step team members all highlighted the importance of pediatric cancer research.

“Last year it was for the Parkland kids, so the show was going to happen anyway,” Michael McCullom said. “After I told a lot of them about my situation they performed for me. So that worked out.”

Lori McCullom said the whole family has been feeling bolstered by the West Orange community.

“We’ve had a lot of support,” she said. “We’re happy to be here.” 

Photos Courtesy of Michael McCullom