Hope’s afoot

Sept 15-22
VOL 124 NO. 31
Hope’s afoot
By Deacon Tom Picciano/ SUN contributing writer
St. Catherine’s Church sponsors walk for children cancer patients

Hillcrest —- Two children’s faces were reflected in the black marble base of an angel statue at Port Dickinson Park as dozens of voices joined in singing “On Eagle’s Wings.” Some 100 people gathered August 28, for a “Miracle Mile” walk around the park sponsored by St. Catherine of Siena Parish. The walk raised money for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Tennessee. Carloads of toys were also gathered for the children’s oncology unit at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse.

Father Tim Taugher, pastor of St. Catherine’s, spoke of children in the community who had cancer. “ We are around a sacred spot, the Angel of Hope with the names and memories of people,” he said, “whose names have been placed on these bricks in loving memory of their lives. And so we just gather as a people of hope. As a people of faith we are called to live with hope.”

Father Taugher also offered a prayer, first seeking the intercession of St. Peregrine, the patron of cancer patients. He then asked for a blessing on the participants, children suffering from cancer, their doctors and their families. Hundreds of bubbles were released from small bottles “as a sign of our prayer rising up.”

Walk organizer Barb Spittle wore a T-shirt with a photo of her son on it. Steven died on August 29, 2003, about 2 months shy of his eighth birthday.

“He had ALL leukemia, which they called the “curable” leukemia. That’s one of my pet peeves. My son did not technically die of leukemia; he died of complications of leukemia. So he’s not counted when they say that ALL has an 85% cure rate. They don’t count. That’s so skewed, the result.”

The New York State Health Department investigated the area near St. Catherine’s, just north of Binghamton, after six children were diagnosed with cancer between 1980 and 1998. In a 1999 news release, the Health Department said it would continue to monitor two industrial sites and one government facility to see if they could be causes of exposure. But the release states that after talking with the affected families, “the interview information did not identify an obvious explanation for the unusual pattern of cancer in the study area.”

“I don’t know if they’ll ever know the answer. They do know there’s more cases than normal.” Spittle said, “I’m sure it has something to do with the pollution that happened. But then you have to realize it was not illegal back then to dump it. Why did my son get cancer? Why didn’t his two brothers or a sister get cancer?” she wondered.

Among the dozens who walked were Steven’s friends. Each wore a button with his photo on it. Eric Hammond misses the time he spent on the playground with his buddy in kindergarten and first grade.

“We were inseparable, and me and somebody else and Steven we used to play together all the time,” Eric said. “I really liked having him here because he was really fun and stuff. We had a lot of fun together.”

“Everyone just misses Steven so much. He was such a sweet boy. But we work really hard and we really try to stick together as much as we can,” said Eric’s mother Mary Beth Hammond. The Hammonds are parishioners at nearby St. Christopher’s.

“There are just so many of Steven’s friends that are here and it’s just nice to see the kids still care and love him, even though he’s not here with us here right now,” she said.

St. Catherine’s DRE, Joe Tiesi, is pleased that the community came together for childhood cancer patients. By September 8, more than $3,700 had been raised, with more money still expected. The idea for the walk came during a phone call from St. Jude’s to Tiesi, who brought it to the parish.

“Who knows where it takes us?” He said. “It’s like ripples in the water; one little event could spark many other events. So this is where the Spirit works. Really it’s all part of the bigger picture.”

For Barb Spittle and her family, St. Catherine’s was a great support during Steven’s illness. She notes how dozens of cards arrived for him at the hospital in the last months of his life. Spittle is also thankful for the prayers of the parish community. She remembered Steven as she spoke of being “touched by the turnout” at the walk.

“If it can help just one person, then it’s….” Spittle said, her voice trailing off. “We need a cure, we need a cure for childhood cancer.”

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