No 16-year-old expects to be told she has cancer. Gina Tabascio was no different.
“It was totally out of the blue,” Tabascio said. “Nobody would have guessed, but it happened and I am just glad it’s done now.”
Tabascio, now 17, was diagnosed with stage 3 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in January of 2010 after a test for scoliosis. Several months of chemotherapy would follow. Five-day stints in the hospital where she would receive chemotherapy became part of her routine.
“It’s a family that you don’t want to need,” Tabascio said. “But you just become so close and they end up being a part of your life, for the rest of your life.”
It was one year ago that Gina was told she was in remission. When thinking about ways to mark the milestone, she decided that she wanted to focus on more than just herself.
“She wanted to give back, she wants to find a cure and help other kids,” said her mother Karen Tabascio.
So Gina and her mom worked together to organize a fundraiser for CureSearch. The nonprofit organization works to raise money to fund juvenile cancer research
The Tabascios’ church, Ss. Constantine and Helen Church in Palos Hills, offered support and space for Sunday’s event. It is just the start of what Gina hopes will be a regular tradition of marking each year of recovery with a bigger fundraiser.
“I just wanted to bring more awareness to the subject of cancer research,” she said. “We hope that it gets bigger every year.”
Support came pouring in from all corners. Gina’s oncologist at Hope works closely with CureSearch.
“No one really expects to have to deal with something like this,” Dr. Jason Canner said. “When it happens some positive experiences can come out of it.”
Canner says that about $20,000 has been raised for CureSearch this year by Hope affiliated fundraisers, primarily working in the south suburbs.
Adam Wouk taught Gina at Marist and worked on the school's efforts to raise funds for cancer research. Around $5,000 was raised during the school’s St. Baldrick’s-like event, Bald for St. Bridget.
Wouk described the moment when Gina got up to speak to her classmates, greeting her doctor as she made her way to the microphone. The applause began to rise as students recognized the meaning of the moment.
“It was really moving,” Wouk said. “You could just see the relationship between doctor and patient.”
Gina and her mother hope to use her experience to bring awareness to the cause.
"I don’t mind talking about it and I feel that if it is going to help somebody else or make them want to do something to help,” Gina said. “Every little bit helps find a cure.”