by ANA OLVERA
As 11-year-old Maddie Tomasko faces a difficult time in her life, her friends, family and community rally behind her in support. Maddie, a fifth-grader at Crestwood Elementary School, was diagnosed on April 7 with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). According to the National Cancer Institute, AML is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes a large number of abnormal blood cells.
Crestwood sent out a press release to students and parents informing them of Maddie’s diagnosis. Maddie left DeVos Children’s Hospital last week Thursday, May 27, after her 50th day of treatment and has a bone marrow transplant pending within the next few weeks.
Her stay at the hospital, however, has been one she has been able to enjoy.
“If Maddie could describe her stay in one word, it’d be Rhys, her child life specialist,” Maddie’s mom Cheryl Tomasko said. “He’ll spend time with her and take her to the playroom. He keeps it lighthearted and upbeat.”
“Maddie is the typical 11-year-old girl who loves life and her friends… even her brothers sometimes,” reads the press release. “Her true love is Hunter, her Brittney Spaniel.” Maddie also has chickens and loves horses.
Students keep in touch with Maddie every day by talking with her via Skype, a video chat program, during their recess. Skype was also used during the students’ graduation from the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program.
“We try to take her wherever we go, and technology gives us that opportunity,” said Andrea Zomberg, a teacher at Crestwood.
“[Maddie] feels honored. With her fears of being different, it’s been reassuring to still have that contact with her friends. It kind of shows that things haven’t changed, so to speak,” Cheryl said.
Crestwood Elementary held different fundraisers every month to help raise money for Relay for Life, beginning with a movie night in January. T-shirts, bracelets, and Airhead candy were sold throughout the fundraising as well. In May, the school held a month-long “Coins for a Cure” competition between all the classrooms.
Andrea Zomberg’s fifth-grade class won the “Coins for a Cure” competition. Zomberg motivated her students to donate coins by giving them a calendar of opportunities, such as wearing a hat, reading a magazine during reading time, or having lunch with her in the classroom. According to Zomberg, some students even brought in extra money from setting up lemonade stands or doing chores at home.
“These students’ level of commitment to their friend is heartwarming. It’s their way of feeling like they’re doing something for Maddie and showing how deeply they care for her,” Zomberg said.
The class received a pizza party for winning the competition, but Zomberg added in dessert for their achievement.
“It was a great way to reward them for all of their hard work,” Zomberg said.
The school also held its third Chalk Walk in memory of Taylor Goebert, a former Crestwood student who passed away from cancer. The event, which is held annually in May, allows students to purchase chalk and decorate the school’s sidewalks. Students typically draw a design, but some this year wrote Maddie’s name instead.
“It not only shows support for those who are currently fighting cancer, it also honors the legacy of those lost,” Zomberg said.
Shoelaces were also sold in May to help raise money for Relay for Life. Fifth-grader Mason Parker came up with the idea to sell the orange shoelaces in support of Maddie.
“You’ll see [the shoelaces] in soccer shoes, hockey shoes—they just symbolize Team Maddie and what she’s going through. The students take great pride in their team,” Crestwood Rocks! Relay team co-captain Jenifer Lewandowski said.
Crestwood’s Relay team won awards at the end of the Relay for Life event for “Most Spirited” and “Momentum” for tripling their fundraising over their previous year. The team also won an award for having the youngest 24-hour walker, Natalie Carlson, 13 years old, in Rockford’s Relay for Life history. Carlson is a former Crestwood student and currently attends East Rockford Middle School.
During Relay for Life, Maddie had the opportunity to talk with her friends and classmates via Skype on the big screen in the survivor tent. As the Crestwood Rocks! Relay team walked around the track for Maddie, a laptop was held in front of the team so Maddie could “see the sea of orange t-shirts,” Cheryl said.
“It was very emotional. She’s just inspired so many people and we try to show our support in any way we can,” Lewandowski said, “We have a strong relay team and that would not be possible if our team didn’t come together and get people involved.”
Splitting time between home and the hospital has not been an easy task for the Tomasko family. But all the support from the community has made it less stressful.
“The strain of having two homes has been hard to deal with, especially having younger kids at home. But the support has been overwhelming; we’ve had people volunteer to help watch the younger kids and make meals. It’s been a humbling process,” Cheryl said.
With so much help and support from their community, the Tomasko family is helping with a blood drive and bone marrow registry on June 18 at Sugar ’n’ Spice Creamery, 6051 Belding Road, between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.
“We’re so compelled to help because we’re that confident that this bone marrow transplant can cure our daughter… the more options, the more chances people have,” Cheryl said.
To get involved with or help out Crestwood’s Relay team or Maddie, e-mail Jenifer Lewandowksi at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Crestwood Elementary School at (616) 863-6346.