MALVERN – Before Andrew Clark came to Malvern Prep, he had only known one other kid who had cancer, but during his time at the school he learned that three students fought cancer and won, just like he did. Now, these four students are banding together to support Clark’s bid to be the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Student of the Year and raise critical funding to eradicate blood cancer.
Clark, a junior from Chester Springs, is one of 10 Philadelphia-area students vying for the 2016 LLS Student of the Year Award. The student who raises the most money during the seven-week competition that began on January 11 wins a $2,500 scholarship to the college of his or her choice. For Clark, the scholarship, and even the contest, though, is secondary the funding and awareness raised to fight the number one cancer killer of people under the age of 20.
The money raised through Clark’s campaign will go to game-changing immunotherapy research spearheaded by Dr. Carl June at the University of Pennsylvania.
“The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has raised more than $1 billion for cancer research,” notes Clark. “June’s research with genetically modifying T-cells with the HIV virus to fight off cancer cells has shown the ability to cure cancer within a week. That is amazing to think how far they have come with the support of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.”
Clark was diagnosed with leukemia when he was three years old. During his seven-year battle with the disease Clark became friends Mark Rodgers—the “one other kid” he knew who had cancer. Clark and Rodgers, a student at Springfield High School, shared the same doctor at A.I. Dupont Hospital for Children. When Rodgers, who won the 2015 LLS Student of the Year award, nominated his friend this year, Clark immediately thought of his Malvern brothers.
“To see how many guys who had cancer in that small community was crazy to me,” he says. “The LLS Student of the Year is a perfect opportunity to get the other cancer survivors and the whole Malvern community behind me to help make a difference.”
Malvern’s three other cancer survivors, Mason Abate, a senior from Malvern, Ethan Bedwell, a senior from Media, and Nick Calvaresi, a junior from Malvern, have all devoted themselves to Clark’s campaign.
“I think that we will have a bond that lasts a lifetime,” says Clark of the group. “I know I will remember them all for the rest of my life and hope that they will be able to do the same. They all know that we would not be here today if it wasn’t for people 20 years ago who were inspired to save lives. Because of that, we are motivated to help find a cure.”
Calvaresi shares Clark’s sentiment. “I was surprised to hear that there were other cancer survivors here at Malvern, and it also comforted me to think that there are others who struggled like me and know the hard times I actually went through.”
Abate is thankful that these friends are still around to share their stories and help others. “Not only do I consider Andrew a close friend, I want to help him because I know he wants to help other kids like us,” he says. “No matter the age, cancer sucks. It’s that simple. I want to help as much as I can, in any way I can.”
Abate was diagnosed with cancer when he was a freshman, and his struggle galvanized the Malvern community. “The brotherhood at Malvern is something I can’t put into words,” he says. “When I was first diagnosed, the whole school got dressed in orange and lined up to spell my initials on the football field. They did that just to try to make me feel a little bit better and let me know they had my back. My classmates used Google Hangouts or FaceTime with me for every single class period so I would not have to repeat a year. The brotherhood at Malvern is real.”
“For many people, Mason’s illness is still fresh in their minds. They were really affected by Mason’s illness and treatment, and they will do anything the can to help find a cure,” Clark says.
So what can you do?
On Saturday, February 20, Clark is hosting a “Catch the Cure” event beginning at 7:00 p.m. at the Main Line Sports Center in Berwyn. This family event features food, games, auctions and fun for all ages. You can learn more about the event at catchthecure.net. You can also make a donation to Clark’s Student of the Year award at the site. The LLS campaign closes at Grand Finale Celebration on Saturday, February 27 at the Loews Hotel Philadelphia.
Whether or not Clark wins does not matter as much the awareness he is bringing to a disease that has affected so many in the Malvern Prep community. Students have shared updates on social media and plastered posters around the school. Clark has spoken at each of the grade-level honors assemblies this month, and Calvaresi penned a personal reflection about his cancer fight for the student newspaper.
These efforts have not gone unnoticed by Malvern teachers. “These guys are trying to make an impact on the world around them. They are not waiting; they are doing it now,” says Upper School Head Ron Algeo, a member of the class of 1987 at Malvern and parent of a 2015 graduate. “I am inspired by that.”
Maybe even more important is that Andrew, Mason, Ethan and Nick know that they have brothers who will do anything for them.
“I could never imagine what my life would be like if I did not have Malvern Prep,” Clark says.