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Lions at NHS for talk on childhood cancer

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MEMBERS OF THE Norway High School LEO Club presented the U.P. Lions Serve Childhood Cancer team with 70 handmade cards to be delivered to young cancer patients. In front, from left are U.P. Lions Serve Childhood Cancer Chair Christine Smith and club members Jessa Rossler, Ashley Carlson, Myah Gilroy, Alyssa dela Cruz, Deanna Cruz, Mary Cavagnetto and Dallas DeBernardi. In back are Lions Serve Childhood Cancer Committee member Carol Henriksen; LEO Club Advisor Tami Slagle; club members Ella Wojtowicz, Jordyn Moln, Payton Paquette, Tessa Castelaz, Tori Trudeau, Emma Dube, Anna Falk, Grace Schiltz, Lucas Robertson and Eli Dube; and committee member Ron Henriksen. (Terri Castelaz/Daily News photo)

NORWAY — The chair of U.P. Lions Serve Childhood Cancer program told Norway High School’s LEO Club on Tuesday that statistics show the Upper Peninsula has the highest number of pediatric cancer diagnoses per capita in the state, with Michigan ranking fifth in the nation.

Recognizing the need, the Lions Club International adopted childhood cancer as an initiative in 2020. Since the start of the program, diagnoses have increased by more than twenty-fold.

U.P. Lions Serve has made it their mission as well to serve U.P. children and families who are battling childhood cancer, U.P. Lions Serve Childhood Cancer Chair Christine Smith said.

“When I started about five years ago, I was worried it was going to be difficult to find a child,” Smith said during a visit Tuesday to speak with the LEO Club, which is the student division of the Vulcan-Norway-Loretto Lions Club.

The program has now assisted 95 families over the course of that time, Smith said, adding they have about 32 U.P. children in various stages of active treatment.

U.P. LIONS SERVE Childhood Cancer Chair Christine Smith, far right, along with U.P. Lions Serve committee members Ron and Carol Henriksen gave a presentation about the program Tuesday to the Norway High School LEO Club. (Terri Castelaz/Daily News photo)

The U.P. Lions Serve Childhood Cancer program provides grants to families to minimize the financial hardship that is directly attributed to a child’s diagnosis. These expenses include travel, groceries, household and medical bills.

“U.P. families face the challenge of having to travel out of the area for care,” said Smith, noting they often have to go into Wisconsin or downstate Michigan, averaging 400 to 600 miles per trip.

Because of the extended time of treatment, one or both parents usually are forced to take a extended leave of absence from their job to be with their child.

“Fighting cancer is expensive — we are really trying to help them with anything they have to endure,” Smith said.

Medical treatment can go on for many years, leaving kids with physical and emotional disabilities, Smith said.

“It’s really a hardship when a kid gets sick,” she said. “It changes their life. So if we can help them just a little bit, we will do it.”

Cancer research has produced promising treatment for pediatric cancer, with a recovery rate of 84%, she said.

Smith said it makes her heart “very happy” to be able to witness the children who came out cancer-free after treatment, with only seven kids lost since she became chair five years ago.

To help lift the spirits of these young patients during this difficult time, NHS LEO Club members make them creative cards by hand.

Club Advisor Tami Slagle and members Tuesday presented Smith with a new supply of 70 cards.

“The families absolutely love your cards,” Smith said. “I think this is the one thing that takes our program a step above some of the other programs and foundations.”

Childhood Cancer Committee member and Vulcan-Norway-Loretto Lions Club member Ron Henrikson also praised the group for their motivational and unique cards.

Slagle, who has been an advisor since the club was founded in 2018, said they now have 53 members.

“We have more LEOs in this school than all of the U.P. combined,” Henrikson said. “You do fabulous.”

Other clubs throughout the U.P. donate toys, hats, quilts and pillowcases as another way to show these young patients aren’t alone.

The U.P. Lions Serve Childhood Cancer program annually receives support from several organizations and businesses.

One of the non-profit’s biggest fundraisers is Tour Da Yoop, Eh, a 1,200-mile bike tour around the perimeter of the U.P., which will take place this year from July 26-Aug. 4.

The fourth-annual, 10-day ride for childhood cancer tour will kick off and finish in Manistique.

“We have set a goal to raise $150,000,” Smith said.

The first year the organization raised $1,500, increasing the second year as they took in $50,000. Last year the fundraiser more than doubled to $113,000.

Smith encourages the Norway community, along with the LEO Club, to come cheer team members on July 27 as they pass through the Norway area to Iron Mountain.

The V-N-L Lions will host a hydration station at the Long Branch Saloon in Faithorn, Henriksen said. He added that other Lions Clubs will also have rest stops throughout the tour.

“Riders would love for the young students to join them while they are in the area,” said Henriksen, noting they don’t have to ride the 1,200 miles.

“You are welcome to ride the day’s 100 miles, or whatever distance they want,” Smith added.

Anyone wishing to contribute to the non-profit mission can go to https://uplionsserve.org/childhood-cancer/donate. All donations go directly to the families and the programs that they serve.

The team is also already preparing for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September.

“We want our LEOs to rally for childhood cancer and bring that awareness across the whole U.P.,” she said. “It’s not about fundraising — we want to let people know we have families here that have children that have life-threatening diseases.”

Henrikson and Smith encouraged the students to come up with ideas and thanked them for what they do in the community.

Parents who have a child with cancer or anyone who knows of someone fighting cancer are encouraged to go to the U.P. Lions Serve Childhood Cancer website at https://uplionsserve.org/childhood-cancer/get-help to download an assessment form. The application form allows the club to calculate how much financial assistance is needed.

“Together we can build a community of support for our local families that are battling childhood cancer,” Smith said.


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