Mekeel Christian Academy learned about Nick Rychcik and Denise Johnston in the span of a week.
Rychcik had gone in for a physical about two months ago. The third-grader wanted to get cleared to play basketball. Instead, doctors found a lump in his abdomen. Later, he learned it was a desmoplastic small round cell tumor, an extremely rare and aggressive childhood cancer. Even with aggressive therapy, the survival rate is low.
The same week Rychcik received his diagnosis, Johnston, the school’s business manager, learned her own: breast cancer.
As Rychcik and Johnston began to receive regular chemotherapy treatments, students were rallying to raise money to help pay for their medical care. A basketball doubleheader scheduled for tonight is one of their biggest fundraising events so far. The girls and boys varsity teams will play a home game against Duanesburg starting at 5:30 p.m. at school, 36-38 Sacandaga Road.
“All the proceeds from the evening — admission and concessions — will go to both families,” said Head of School W. Chad Bowman.
The student organization Mekeel Cares is leading the fundraising effort. This group has been raising money for one cause or another since 2011. At the start, it was for a flood cleanup project in Schoharie. Later, it was for a local family whose home burned down.
The impetus for the most recent cause has been one of the toughest to swallow, though, said Bowman.
“This is my 20th year here, and we’ve never had a case that I can remember that has galvanized our school community like this,” he said. “To have two cancer diagnoses within a week, it was certainly remarkable and has brought us together.”
Johnston, a single mother of two, will likely be unable to attend tonight’s game. Bowman said she received a round of chemotherapy Monday. Rychcik received his last round of chemotherapy Friday and may feel well enough to attend, Bowman said.
Students will be wearing T-shirts that Mekeel Cares printed and sold for the cause. They include the phrase “Together We Fight” and a Bible verse from the Book of Joshua: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Anyone who wishes to donate to the cause can write a check to “Mekeel Cares” and send it to Mekeel Christian Academy, 36-38 Sacandaga Road, Scotia, NY 12302.