JAMESBURG: 12-year-old organizes Starlight Cancer Walk

The Jamesburg Fire Department was painted pink as residents rallied together to support the first annual Starlight Cancer Walk which was inspired by 12-year-old Alexia Wilson.

By Amy Batista, Special Writer
JAMESBURG —The Jamesburg Fire Department was painted pink as residents rallied together to support the first annual Starlight Cancer Walk which was inspired by 12-year-old Alexia Wilson.
   ”It’s a really proud moment for all of us in Jamesburg when a young person comes up with an idea that’s really fantastic and new for our town,” said Mayor Marlene Lowande as she addressed the crowd. Mayor Lowande thanked everyone for participating. “I hope we get to do a lot more good things like this for our town.”
   The walk was inspired after a loved one died of cancer.
   ”My original thoughts of this walk started out two years ago,” said Alexia. “I lost a great family member from my life because of cancer. Even though it wasn’t breast cancer, I wanted to help make a difference and help spread my work even more.”
   According to her mom, Michele Wilson, it was her godfather who was more like a grandfather to Alexia, who passed away three years ago from pancreatic cancer.
   ”It was so quick that nobody saw it coming,” Ms. Wilson said. “That hit home. Alexia just wanted to make a difference so she brought it to our attention that she wanted to something like this, a walk. I said to her we are not going to do it, you have to take responsibility.”
   The mile and a half walk started at 5 p.m. at the Jamesburg Fire Department located at 82 West Railroad Avenue and headed down to the first parking lot at Thompson Park and then back up Gatzmer Avenue then onto West Railroad Avenue, and finally back to the firehouse.
   ”We are hoping to have our all of our luminary bags lit with (pink) glow sticks to have a walkway to the firehouse, hence the starlight theme.” Ms. Wilson said.
   ”I can’t wait to see the luminaries at the end,” said June Rizza, of Jamesburg.
   At the start of the registration, around 100 people were already pre-registered between online and at the Fall Festival.
   Organizers raised $2,430 with an estimated 89 adults and 22 kids who participated in the walk.
   There was a $20 fee for adults and a $10 fee for children 13 and under.
   ”All of the funds raised go right back into the community,” Ms. Mandal said.
   Attendees were able to write a message in dedication or in memory of someone walkers were walking for on the luminary bags, get a breast cancer awareness ribbon tattoo, snack on cookies and brownies with breast cancer awareness ribbons logo on top provided by the Spotswood ShopRite and dance to music provided free by Ryan Galway owner of Sleepless Mind Entertainment.
   During this past summer, Alexia compiled a binder of her thoughts and ideas.
   ”I brought it to them and they made it happen,” Alexia said.
   ”I said ‘I think this is going to work’,” Ms. Wilson said adding that she shared it with her husband, Sgt. Kevin Wilson of the Jamesburg Police Department.
   In July, Ms. Wilson contacted the American Cancer Society who made an appointment for the family to meet with the executive director and a school recruiter, Jennifer Mandal.
   ”Alexia came to me looking to create a walk,” said Ms. Mandal. “It basically went from there and throwing out ideas.”
   Ms. Mandel said she worked with Alexia on creating her walk for the past few months.
   ”I worked with the American Cancer Society and we chose to focus on breast cancer because I am a young woman,” Alexia said. “I hope to one day celebrate the cure with all of you.”
   ”Once they told us what we needed to be done, we followed up and our next process was to get approval from the mayor,” Ms. Wilson said. “If it wasn’t for her, this wouldn’t have happened.”
   In August, Alexia wrote a letter to Mayor Marlene Lowande asking her support.
   ”Alexia wrote me a letter asking if she could organize this walk in Jamesburg and would we be supportive of it,” said Mayor Lowande. “I told her absolutely, but here’s the catch. You have to plan it, put it together.”
   According to Mayor Lowande, they discussed times and doing a twilight walk “which was a little different.”
   ”She put a lot of hard work into it,” Mayor Lowande said adding she was proud of the young resident.
   Mayor Lowande said she would like to see more youth take the same initiative as Alexia.
   ”I would love to see more of our young people want to step up and do more,” Mayor Lowande said. “She’s a great example.”
   According to Mayor Lowande, anyone that brings “things that are good for the community” she is behind “100 percent.”
   ”She knew she wanted to have it here,” Ms. Wilson said. “They have been nothing but wonderful and open to everything.”
   One in every two women are diagnosed, according to Ms. Mandal.
   In 2013, an estimated 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among women, as well as an estimated 64,640 additional cases of in situ breast cancer. In 2013, approximately 39,620 women are expected to die from breast cancer, according to the association.
   Only lung cancer accounts for more cancer deaths in women. In 2013, about 2,240 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and about 410 men will die from the disease, according to its website.
   According to Ms. Mandel, the highlight for her is seeing the cancer survivors walk.
   Joanne Kennedy is a survivor who was diagnosed two years ago and resident in the town who spoke before the walk started.
   ”Thank you all for coming out and showing your support for this wonderful fundraiser event,” said Ms. Kennedy. “She is an amazing young woman 12-years-old who came up with this idea. Thank you Alexia for your perseverance.”
   According to Ms. Kennedy, the day she was diagnosed is a day she “will never forget.”
   ”We are all survivors in some way,” Ms. Kennedy said. “Every survivor has a different story. It’s doesn’t make us any different. We are all the same. We are all superior women conquering this deadly disease who has taken my mother for more than 30 years ago.”
   Everything is different know with awareness, according to Ms. Kennedy. Ms. Kennedy defined what cancer is to the crowd.
   ”Cancer is cells,” Ms. Kennedy said. “Cells grow and divide and breakdown and die. Sometimes they don’t die that leads to a mass of abnormal cells which are out of control resulting in any form of a tumor.”
   Statistically one out of every eight women develop breast cancer and most survive due to technology and fundraising, according to Ms. Kennedy.
   ”Over the past several decades doctors and researchers have tried to come up with some sort of cure or something to make it better,” Ms. Kennedy said. “That’s what this event is for. It doesn’t matter if we raise a $100 a $1,000 or $10,000 as long as we keep this going and we keep going and get everybody then you know someday it will happen.”
   ”Support” is what is important, according to Ms. Kennedy.
   ”I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for the whole town to get together for a very worthwhile cause,” said Vice Principal of GMB Wendy Sloter. “I’m very proud of Alexia for doing this at such a young age.”
   According to Alexia, the highlight was “living through the moment.”
   Alexia’s friends were assisting at the tattoo table.
   ”I think it’s for a great cause,” said Elizabeth Ayash, 12, of Jamesburg.
   ”It feels too good to be true,” Alexia said. “It’s mixed emotions right now.”
   The lesson in this for Alexia was realizing that she can accomplish anything and thanked those who “helped make her dream come true.”
   ”I realized that if I work hard enough I can accomplish something big enough,” Alexia said. “I never realized how so many people are willing to help who always come to do work with nothing in return but a thank you.”
   The next walk has already been scheduled for Oct. 26, 2014. Registration starts as early as May.
   ”We may be small this year but I hope to even bigger the next,” Alexia said.