When ninth-graders Margot California and Sarah Glatz were living through their mothers' cancer diagnoses, they received support from others in similar situations.
Now members of the Teen Advisory Committee at Gilda's Club of Western Pennsylvania, the Ross teens decided to introduce cancer awareness and support to their classmates at North Hills High School.
The two freshmen held a cancer awareness event at the high school last week. They handed out ribbons and literature about cancer, set up a wall display where students and teachers could write about loved ones who faced cancer, and sold bracelets to raise money for Gilda's Club.
"I think it opens their eyes to see how cancer affects people that they know," said Sarah, 14. When she was in second grade, she learned that her mother, Debbie, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Her mother now is a cancer survivor.
"There are a few people in my grade that have parents or grandparents that are very ill from cancer. Hopefully, we are able to show them that they can get support," said Margot, 15, whose mother, Judy, died from cancer last year.
Margot said her mother "wanted me to help donate my time to help out Gilda's Club."
Gilda's Club is a national nonprofit organization formed in memory of Gilda Radner, the "Saturday Night Live" comedienne who died of ovarian cancer.
The flagship New York City club was established by Ms. Radner's husband, actor Gene Wilder, and her cancer therapist, Joanna Bull.
The Pittsburgh chapter was formed by oncology nurse Cynthia Stanish and her husband, Al, and is in the Strip District. It is open to anybody who is coping with cancer.
The Teen Advisory Committee was started four years ago because teenagers weren't coming to the clubhouse, said Kathleen Petulla, youth program manager for the Pittsburgh chapter.
The committee has 20 teens, most of whom "have been touched by cancer in some way," she said. They sponsor a writing contest, a battle of the bands and awareness weeks in schools. Last year, sales of the cancer awareness bracelets raised $2,500 for the club.
This was North Hills' first year to hold an awareness week.
"They wanted to bring awareness to teens, and the best way to reach them is to go to the schools," Margot said.
At North Hills, each day represented a different cancer, and students were urged to dress in the color that represents awareness of that cancer. One day was devoted to childhood cancer, and others to prostate and colon, breast and melanoma.
"It went over so well. I was not expecting as much support as we got," Margot said, adding that there was a "sea of black" in the school on melanoma awareness day.
The girls made videos for each day, each one with different facts about cancer, and cut out thousands of ribbons in five different cancer awareness colors for the 1,400 students.
Sarah said all the work is worth it if their classmates learn "that they are not alone when someone they know is affected by cancer, that everyone shares their stories."
Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.