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A thank you kiss that means so much

Marta Olander never thought she’d come to rely on PALS she certainly never imagined that one of her children would need the cancer charity.

Then the unthinkable happened and her daughter Eliza was diagnosed with brain cancer when she was six months old.

One telephone call and PALS was there to help, using money donated by childhood cancer charity St Baldrick’s.

Eliza, now eight and in remission, will be the honoree of the annual St Baldrick’s event tomorrow.

People around the world shave their head each year to raise money for children with cancer, and childhood cancer research.

The event is usually held on or near St Patrick’s Day, March 17.

In Bermuda, those who participate can choose to give their funds raised either to PALS or to the larger St Baldrick’s organisation in the United States.

Since Eliza’s diagnosis, her family has received immeasurable assistance from PALS, which has received over $1 million dollars from St Baldrick’s specifically to help children with cancer.

“Doctors can’t operate on Eliza because the tumour is on the middle of her brain,” said Mrs Olander. “Right now it is controlled by chemo and medication. She has to have medication all the time. She is doing very well right now. She is in remission.”

Eliza now goes abroad every three months for check-ups. PALS has helped the Olanders with travel expenses, among other things. Luckily, Eliza is doing so well that at the end of this year, she will only have to travel for check-ups every six months.

Using donations from St Baldrick’s, PALS has funded several childhood cancer research grants at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. The hope is that one day they find a cure, so that other families don’t have to go through what the Olanders have been through.

Ann Smith Gordon, president and CEO of PALS, said St Baldrick’s was one of the best events dreamed up.

“PALS has benefited and so have the children we have been able to help,” Ms Gordon said. “We also fund research fellowships. It is all restricted funds. The money we use is out of the money from St Baldrick’s. Mercifully, we don’t have a lot of children with cancer in Bermuda, but any child that needs our help, we are there to help them from these funds.”

Mrs Olander said PALS was amazing, and that sometimes people don’t appreciate the charity until they need it. She is originally from Costa Rica and her husband, Hans Olander, is Bermudian. When she first came to Bermuda she saw advertisements for PALS but thought she would never need them.

“I certainly never thought my child would need them,” she said. “When Eliza was diagnosed, they called me and said PALS can help you. I have two older daughters, and my husband was out of work for several months. He had to stay here and take care of my daughters while I went overseas with Eliza.

“People should understand what PALS is. They need economic support. Today it was me being helped but next time it might be someone else. They know how to treat people. Eliza feels very comfortable with them. They are part of our family.”

Two years ago, Mrs Olander went to the annual shaving event for St Baldrick’s. Some of the people shaving their heads were children, which brought back some painful memories.

“It was quite emotional going,” she said. “Eliza’s older sister wanted to shave her head for St Baldrick’s, but I said ‘no, there won’t be any bald heads in my house’. It just brings back too many painful memories of seeing Eliza and other children in the hospital who had lost their hair to cancer. I really appreciate [the efforts people who shave make] though. These children are wonderful to do it.”

Her youngest daughter is a very happy child today, she said.

“I never see her with depression,” said Mrs Olander. “She enjoys every minute. I want to say thank you to PALS because they don’t only do a lot for us but also for many other people. I also want to thank St Baldrick’s. Thank you for helping Eliza.”

St Baldrick’s will celebrate its tenth anniversary in Bermuda this year. In the last decade the charity has raised more than $3 million for the larger St Baldrick’s Foundation to fund cancer research, and $1.3 million for PALS in Bermuda.

More than 40 people, including a group of children from the Learning Express Academy, have signed up to shave their heads tomorrow latecomers to the razor are always welcome.

The event starts at 4.30pm in the Bermuda Athletic Association gymnasium on Woodlands Road.

A total of $141,792 has so far been pledged in donations this year. A private event at Saltus Grammar School saw an additional $65,773 raised. The charity’s goal is $600,000.

To make a donation: www.stbaldricks.org, 1-888-899-BALD or www.pals.bm.

Eliza Olander who was helped by PALS through the St Baldrick?s event gives Ann Smith Gordon, president of PALS, a big kiss at the charity?s offices.

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Published March 15, 2012 at 2:00 am (Updated March 15, 2012 at 9:25 am)

A thank you kiss that means so much

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