Students of Voorhees Middle School took some “shots against cancer” during their gym and health periods on Thursday, Oct. 30. These “shots” were actually basketball throws students were asked to take in support of finding a cure for the recurrence of breast cancer.
What started out four years ago with tennis balls and trashcans has evolved into a school-wide day of fun, music and basketball that involves every student, all to help raise money for Pennies in Action. Pennies in Action is a non-profit organization that helps fund a ground-breaking vaccine started by breast cancer doctor Brian Czerniecki that prevents the recurrence of cancer.
“We’re really blessed that the school supports this cause and they’re willing to promote it,” said Noreen Saggese, a breast cancer survivor and the program’s organizer at VMS who was also a patient to Czerniecki.
When sixth-grade students come into VMS, they are given a presentation about cancer and Czerniecki’s vaccine. Since cancer affects so many lives, Saggese, along with the rest of the school, felt the students needed to be informed and help the cause.
Students were asked to bring in a dollar to donate toward Pennies in Action. For each dollar they donate, they get one raffle ticket for prizes donated from the Philadelphia Flyers and Phil Martelli, the men’s basketball coach of the Saint Joseph’s Hawks. For each $1 donation, the students get three shots at the basket. If they make a shot, they receive more raffle tickets for separate prizes that are available for each grade.
The students also were collecting change during their lunch periods throughout October toward the cause. So far, the school has raised $350 from lunch donations, and from the shoot off, it raised $973. The students still have a week to donate.
Pennies in Action was started seven years ago by Uschi Keszler, an Olympic athlete, Olympic coach and breast and uterine cancer survivor. As an elite athlete, Keszler was aware of the power and resiliency of the human body. So when she decided to help find a way to beat cancer, she knew she could not support something that would not go directly toward a cause or toward something that could destroy the body to heal it. Finding out that her surgeon was already in clinical trials of a vaccine that utilizes the patient’s own immune system to fight breast cancer, she knew she had found her first project.
“Dr. Czerniecki was my doctor, and his funding started running out on his research. He told me about his research, and it was very, very exciting for me to hear, and it could make so much of a difference. So I started this organization,” Keszler said.
The vaccine primes the immune system to attack cancer like an infection. Because the FDA hasn’t approved it yet, money toward the vaccines must come out of pocket, so that is why Pennies for Action was started. In the past few years, it has had a great success rate, dramatically reducing the recurrence of cancer in the patients who have taken the vaccine.
Since there are four types of breast cancer, Keszler, unfortunately, was not a candidate since she did not have DICS breast cancer, which is a less invasive form of breast cancer. However, Jeanette Finocchiaro, a breast cancer survivor who was present at the shoot off event, was a candidate. Through the students’ help, she will be receiving the vaccine.
“Thank you. I am able to get the shot because of all of your efforts,” Finocchiaro said.
To learn more about Pennies in Action, as well as the vaccine, go to www.penniesinaction.org.