Event for cancer survivor raises $5,000 for research

Posted Dec. 21, 2010, at 9:33 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:43 a.m.

LIMESTONE, Maine — Organizers behind the It’s All About the Bling fundraiser had three goals in mind when they were planning the event. They wanted to honor a teenage cancer survivor, pay tribute to others who have battled the disease and raise money to benefit the American Cancer Society.

The Dec. 15 fete accomplished all three.

Jennifer Poitras, a Title I reading teacher at the Limestone Community School, was one of the main organizers of the event. She said on Monday that the celebration, which was held during a boys basketball game at the school, raised $4,789 to benefit the American Cancer Society.

The event was the brainchild of Poitras and Ken Hixson, an English teacher at the school, who both wanted to pay tribute to Zach Cote, a 16-year-old junior at the school who lost his leg to cancer on Dec. 15, 2009.

Cote was 14 when he found a small bump on his left ankle. He learned in November 2009 that it was a rare form of cancer. The treatment options were grim: either cut out the lump, lose use of the foot and risk the chance that the cancer would return, or amputate below the knee. Cote chose amputation. He was fitted with a prosthetic leg a few months after the operation and quickly jumped back into playing baseball, soccer and basketball.

His positive attitude in the face of adversity, upbeat spirit and desire to pay the support he had received forward inspired many in the northern Maine community. It also attracted national attention.

Cote was one of five high school athletes in the country featured by ESPN during the sports network’s fourth annual Jimmy V Week for Cancer Research, Dec. 1-7. Features on television, online and in ESPN The Magazine during the week were designed “to raise awareness of the need to fund cancer research and to spotlight research successes,” according to ESPN. Cote’s story was available online at espn.com and at espnrise.com.

Along with serving as a fundraiser, It’s All About the Bling marked the passing of a year since Cote’s amputation surgery. The event took place during the home opening game for the varsity boys basketball team, of which Cote is a member.

During the Dec. 15 game against Easton, the Limestone basketball team wore gold jerseys, the color of the ribbon for childhood cancer. Members of the school’s sports teams are known as the Eagles, but that night the players wore jerseys pronouncing them “Eaglez” in honor of Zach.

The event included a 50-50 raffle, concession sales and other fundraising activities, with all proceeds going to the American Cancer Society. Since the school doesn’t have cheerleaders, those from Caribou High School volunteered to jazz up the crowd. Cancer survivors were recognized during halftime, and a memorial wall was on display.

Jessica Mitchell and her friend Kate Harris, both of Presque Isle, drove to Limestone to attend the event. The two women each brought their children.

“I wanted to go after I read Zach’s story in the newspaper,” Mitchell said Tuesday. “I was so inspired that it just brought me to tears. I lost my own mother to ovarian cancer when I was 6 years old, and I tell you, nothing is really the same after that. My mom fought hard but it was the 1960s, so they didn’t know as much about it as they do today. It was great to read Zach’s story and see how much he had influenced his teammates and that entire community.”

“His impact on that community was obvious,” said Harris. “There were very few dry eyes in the house that night, and the crowd cheered so hard for him and for the teammates and friends that had supported him through his ordeal. It was also neat to see all of the survivors and contribute money to such a worthy cause.”

During the ceremony, Cote was given a surprise by organizers of the event. Friends, teammates, teachers and classmates had signed a daily calendar for him. Each person wrote an encouraging note or an inspirational phrase on each day of the 2011 calendar. Poitras, a cancer survivor herself, said her second year as a survivor was the hardest for her, as she lived in fear that the cancer would come back. She said before the ceremony that she felt the calendar would help Cote start his second year “on a positive note.”

Organizers are hoping to make It’s All About the Bling an annual event.

Information about how to donate to the American Cancer Society is available online at cancer.org.

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