Jessica Kardashian, a Silver Creek teacher
I have cancer. The words you hope you never have to hear someone you know say. The thing is: Cancer doesn’t discriminate. It affects every single one of us in some way: a parent, child, sibling, friend, colleague, teacher, student. It changes who you are, what you stand for and the dreams you hold for yourself and others. Trying to reconcile what life now means for the person with cancer, their family, their world, and you isn’t always a possibility. Where does one begin in that moment?
That’s where Schools Against Cancer can help YOU make a difference.
My Personal 'Why' for Getting Involved
Cancer is something I know far too much about. In 2005, when I heard the word ‘cancer,’ I immediately knew the pain it caused, one that would become much harder to bear. My grandfather, my greatest role model and the man who had been a dad to me my entire life after mine passed when I was seven, had just been diagnosed with lung cancer. He had beaten the odds before, having been diagnosed with heart disease 10 years prior and far surpassing the six months he was given to live. But this was different. He was suffering and I couldn’t stand it. I watched my grandma be strong for us, my grandpa going to Roswell Park day in and out for chemo and treatments and my grandma sitting beside him every single day. My mom and my aunt were constantly by his side.
I started my first year of college, and at that point, I needed to do something. I’m not sure if it was for the cause or for me to find a place in what I was feeling. I found ways to volunteer, raise money and to advocate. I NEEDED to do more. I knew I wasn’t alone in feeling the way that I did. Christmas of 2007, we lost him. I can still see the last few days with him as vividly as ever. It’s been 16 years.
I knew the impact that loss had on my family, and I had watched so many others lose their loved ones that my mission to create change became what I view as a responsibility.
How I Started Advocating and Fundraising
I started a program called Knights Against Cancer at my school back in 2017 to give my students an outlet for all that they were feeling and create an opportunity for those wanting to fight back. I had run similar clubs at two other schools, but Knights Against Cancer has become more than that; it has become a lifeline for both my students and for me. Over the years, our club has volunteered in all different ways: working with pediatric patients, volunteering at major events for Roswell Park and other organizations, getting involved with Courage of Carly Fund, spreading awareness through cancer awareness weeks and hygiene drives, fundraising and, most notably, participating in Bald for Bucks.
Bald for Bucks allows our students and faculty to advocate and be a part of something, not only to fight back but to share such an important piece of their identity. Bald for Bucks has become more than a yearly event at our school; it has become a tradition. It has grown significantly and changed over time due to the need for presentation and to be able to engage everyone who supports it. When I started running Bald for Bucks, we started in the gym, and I had about ten people as a part of the event. Since then, it has grown to around 20 people per event, and it is held in the auditorium where we work to celebrate each of our participants on stage. We invite the parents and families of those participating, make it a schoolwide event, interview each of our participants about their why and, even more, honor the reason we are fighting and raising money: the warriors who have brought us to that moment.
Students and faculty plan a year or two in advance when they are going to donate or shave their heads. Staff members get involved. We have students who plan to participate from elementary school on, knowing that when they get to high school, it will be an every-year thing. Elementary and middle school students participate and invite their classes to cheer them on. Siblings from the different schools within the district participate together multiple times. Each year, we grow in donations, participants and the impact on our school. The event has become something people talk about year-round!
A new tradition I started this past year is to have a caregiver or survivor speak at the opening of each event about why it matters, share their story and explain how the support of the community has impacted them and those around them.
My Responsibility to the Cancer Cause
Like I said earlier, I view advocating and fundraising for cancer research as a responsibility. You never know who you are helping at any given moment. Being a part of something like this is a movement to me. I often think about how to share my passion for advocacy with our students and have been so fortunate to work for a district that has supported that advocacy. Students see the difference they are making and, in turn, want to take that to the next level when they move on to the next chapters in their lives.
When I think back to 2005, I think about the person I was, who my family was and how much those two years changed our lives. But then I also think about how much of an impact the time since has had on me — what it has meant to fight, to share with others, to give so much of who I am to a cause I know is one of the most important there is. My personal motto is, “One seed has the power to bring great beauty and change to this world. All it takes is an idea and a person willing to grow with it.”