When Jim Stewart talks about his daughter Katy, 10, it is with an enormous sense of pride. A hard worker who loves her friends, likes to ride her bike and adores the beach, Stewart said his daughter’s empathetic, altruistic nature was apparent almost at birth.
But since April, it is Katy who has needed, and received, the support of her family, friends and the East End community as she battles a rare form of liver cancer. On Saturday, the community will rally again around Katy’s cause at The Max Cure Foundation’s first charity event, the “Roar for a Cure” Carnival at East Hampton Indoor Tennis, which will benefit three cancer causes including Katy’s Courage Fund.
The Max Cure Foundation, a not-for-profit founded to fund pediatric cancer causes is hosting the event, which will benefit that foundation’s fund for pediatric cancer research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where Katy is currently being treated. The benefit, which will feature games, prizes, food and beverages, raffles, face painting, balloon artists, celebrity guests and a live performance by pop music quartet Push Play, will also fund the T.J. Martell Foundation for Leukemia, Cancer and AIDS research, and Katy’s Courage Fund, created to assist Katy and her family as she continues her battle against cancer.
The Sag Harbor resident’s life was forever changed on April 1, when she noticed a pain in her shoulder. As Katy writes on her website http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/katystewart, it was no April Fools joke. Two days later, sleeping at a friend’s house, Katy woke up in unbearable pain. Rushed to Southampton Hospital by her mother Brigid Collins, Katy was transferred to Stony Brook University Medical Center where doctor’s discovered a mass on her liver. After a biopsy, it was discovered Katy suffered from a rare form of liver cancer, hepatoblastoma.
Hepatoblastoma is the most common pediatric liver cancer, accounting for almost 80 percent of all liver tumors in children, although it is considered uncommon when compared to cancer rates for children as a whole. About 100 cases are reported annually.
The family – which includes Katy’s brother Robert – began searching for the right doctor to help Katy through the months ahead. Stewart said after speaking with numerous patients, parents and doctors, one name kept coming up, Dr. Michael LaQuaglia, a pediatric surgeon that specializes in the treatment of cancer in children and adolescents at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan.
“So we made the move to Slone-Kettering and began working with Dr. LaQuaglia,” said Stewart on Tuesday. “The results we are just finding out about.”
Following a round of chemotherapy that began in April, Dr. LaQuaglia advocated removing almost three quarter’s of Katy’s liver, which will grow back over time, ideally cancer free. On Thursday Katy underwent the intensive seven-hour surgery and is recovering at the cancer center with her family. According to Stewart, she will complete two more rounds of chemotherapy.
“She is tough and every day she requests to go home,” said Stewart. When Katy will be able to head home remains uncertain. Following her surgery, Katy was kept in the pediatric intensive care unit and was transferred early this week to the patient observation unit. Stewart, Collins and their son Robert have been staying at the Ronald MacDonald House near Slone-Kettering, enabling them to be close to Katy and meet parents going through similar situations.
Stewart said the family has been in close contact with Richard and David Plotkin, the founders of the Max Cure Foundation. Established in June 2007 by the Plotkin family in honor of Maxwell Grant Plotkin – Richard’s grandson and David’s son – who was diagnosed with cancer in 2007, a day before his fourth birthday. The mission of the fund is to raise $5 million to underwrite the establishment of a research laboratory at Memorial Slone-Kettering in the pediatrics department.
“David has been very supportive because his son has been going through this,” said Stewart.
While Stewart is uncertain whether he will be able to attend Saturday’s carnival, he said the support of the community throughout his Katy’s ordeal has been overwhelming and a force that has helped the family and Katy remain positive during the last four months. Stewart, a teacher and coach at East Hampton High School whose wife is the assistant principal in Montauk, said the support has been far reaching, from Montauk to Sag Harbor, from parents, students and old classmates alike.
“Kids we didn’t even know and people we didn’t know have reached out to us,” said Stewart, noting the creation of a page dedicated to Katy at Caringbridge.org has helped the family stay in touch with family and friends nationwide.
The outreach from Katy’s classmates and teachers at Sag Harbor Elementary has been another source of strength.
“They have been phenomenal,” said Stewart. “Her classmates have been putting together scrapbooks for Katy. It started out at one and now there are three and apparently another one on the way.”
Stewart said Katy definitely plans on returning to Sag Harbor Elementary this fall.
“We already did her school shopping,” he said. “She is really looking forward to getting back into school with her friends. I think she should be back sooner rather than later.”
The Max Cure Foundation’s Roar for the Cure Carnival will be held at East Hampton Indoor Tennis on Daniels Hole Road in East Hampton from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, August 22. The outdoor event is billed as a carnival and family fun day, with an auction and a live performance by Push Play, a pop music group. Admission is $200 for a family of four, with single adult tickets at $100 and tickets for children under 18 at $25. Children under four can attend free of charge. Tickets can be purchased at maxfoundation.org or at the door.