OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network

It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t been touched by cancer.

While that can be taken as a declaration of hopelessness, the determined cancer-fighting community at Alexander Mackenzie High School (AMAC) in Richmond Hill, Ontario has chosen to look at it differently, and in turn it’s brought them together.

“Today whether you are faculty, support staff, custodian or student, there are no barriers, departments or classrooms. Just one community with one shared goal — to fight cancer,” says Principal Shawn Bredin.

“Over the years this school has faced adversity with various staff members and students fighting cancer. The ‘AMAC Fights Back’ event has offered a way to rally our school to beat cancer through fundraising and awareness.”

In March, the “AMAC Fights Back” event brought students and staff together with community cancer organizations. This year they included a swab event for OneMatch, which collected 136 samples for testing and raised money for cancer research.

Event founder Diana Marchisello intimately understands how important it is to raise dollars and awareness for cancer.

“In 2007 I lost one of my dearest friends to cancer. I knew then as I know now, something has to be done to change this,” she says.

A cosmetology teacher, she looked at what she knew best and “maniCURE” was born and rolled into the “AMAC Fights Back” line-up.

“Manicures for cures made perfect sense,” Diana says.

This kind of creative logic spread to the school’s librarian staff that wired up an online survey; to the custodians who served up hot chili; and to the gaggle of eager Grade 12 students who sold their wares for loonies and toonies. Everyone owned a special part of this event. There’s no doubt, two years on, that the school is a small nation of believers all driven by the necessity to help others. Like Nish.

On Dec. 19, 2011, Nishaat Sheraly (Nish) was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia or more commonly known as AML. A teacher at the school for 13 years and a dear friend to many, her diagnosis hit close to home.

She’s been touched by the efforts of students and staff at her school, and in her community.

“You go through your life thinking your eyes are wide open but in fact they are actually closed. This remarkable community of AMAC helped me realize this for the first time and to witness life’s real essentials of love, friendship, and a big heart to comfort others,” Nish says.

“These are things that are around us every day but we take them for granted. Thanks to my family, friends, and this very special place called AMAC, my eyes are now truly open and the view is both humbling and inspiring.”

When asked about what underscored the success of the event, she doesn’t hesitate: “The kids. These wonderful students showed us how to deal with cancer as a community. Not to be alone in your fear and anxiety but to band together to beat it once and for all.”