Remembering a friend Local teen’s connection to cancer serves as springboard to Warwick Interact’s FundRazor

By on August 3, 2011

By: ROCHELLE A. SHENK Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer

Katie Oppo the day before surgery to remove a mass on her ovary. She went to a lavender field with her mother and grandmother (who passed away in October). Lavender was her favorite smell and one of her favorite colors. She died earlier this year, at the age of 19, from cancer.Katie Oppo the day before surgery to remove a mass on her ovary. She went to a lavender field with her mother and grandmother (who passed away in October). Lavender was her favorite smell and one of her favorite colors. She died earlier this year, at the age of 19, from cancer.

Drew Baker’s experience with a friend that succumbed to cancer inspired him to take action.

"I was initially going to have my head shaved, and then decided that I could spread the word in a much larger way by doing a community event," said the Warwick High School student.

His initial thought of shaving his head was the inspiration for the Warwick High School Interact’s FundRazor, an event in memory of Katie Oppo that will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 11 at the Warwick High School gym. All ages are welcome at the event. Buzz cuts and memory leather bracelets will be offered at $5, and handmade leather bracelets with a courage bead will be available for $2. The American Cancer Society will also have a booth with information.

"I’d like people to believe that there’s always hope out there. They should be strong through the difficult times and fight through them," Baker says. "It’s also important to realize that there are other people who will support you and be there for you."

A pre-med student at Johns Hopkins University, Katie Oppo graduated from Manhasset High School, Manhasset, N.Y., in 2009. Kyle Baker, Drew’s 20-year old brother and former Warwick Interact member, is a computer science major at Johns Hopkins. He met Katie at Hopkins during the spring of 2010. The two dated and became close, and she met the Baker family early last summer.

"Katie became very much a part of our family," said Jane Baker, Kyle and Drew’s mother.

Katie was diagnosed with Stage IV hypercalcemic small cell ovarian carcinoma, a rare form of ovarian cancer, in August 2010, just prior to beginning her sophomore year at Hopkins. Drew explained that some health issues during a family trip prompted Katie to seek medical attention, and tests led to the cancer diagnosis.

"She told Kyle and then he told our family after they knew what was going on. I had only known Katie for a month or two when we were told about the cancer," Drew recalled. "She was only 19 and I wondered why this happened to her. It didn’t seem possible."

Katie went though rounds of treatment for cancer with her family and Kyle at her side. She visited the Baker family at Thanksgiving.

"She was always courageous and strong the whole way through — she got shots and went through chemo without any complaints. Her focus was on getting better as soon as possible," Drew explained.

After valiantly battling her illness for eight months, Katie died on April 11. In her memory, Katie’s mother, Kyle and eight close friends helped organize "Team Katie," which organized the Katie Oppo Memorial Walk/Run that was held in Manhasset on July 24 to honor Katie’s memory and raise funds for hypercalcemic small cell ovarian cancer research. Jane Baker said that this experience has prompted Kyle to add the necessary classes for pre-med. He is interested in surgery, specifically dealing with ovarian cancer.

Drew and his family not only participated in the New York event, but he also wanted to honor Katie in his own way. After talking with Lisa Gleason, the Interact club’s advisor at Warwick, Drew helped coordinate the "FundRazor" event.

Gleason explained that the service group, which is sponsored by the Lititz Rotary Club, hosts an annual fundraiser to benefit the local community. However, this is the first time an event has been held over the summer.

"Just before school starts is a great time to do this particular event. Kids are getting ready for school and sports practices are beginning, so the idea of a buzz cut is very timely," she said. Shaved heads are also a symbol of solidarity with cancer patients, since hair loss is often a side effect of treatment.

Gleason stressed that the event is a student effort. Interact members will greet people at the door and direct them to the various areas of interest. Funds raised through the event will be split between the Katie Oppo Memorial Fund, for cancer research, and a grassroots community effort to aid cancer patients.

Students are also taking an active role in preparing for the event. Approximately 24 Warwick High School students, most of them Interact members, and community members gathered on July 27 to make the "courage" bead bracelets (leather bracelets wrapped with teal embroidery thread that feature a center "courage" bead). Each type of cancer has a different color for awareness; teal is the color for ovarian cancer.

"To honor Katie, the theme of our event is courage," Drew said.

Social media has played a major role in this effort. Once the event was scheduled, Drew not only shared information on his Facebook page, but also created an "event" in Facebook that also had a link to find out more information about Katie and the memorial fund. Facebook members could RSVP to the event, and the information became part of their page and was spread to their friends as well.

"Before the Internet and social media, it would have been difficult to host an event like this over the summer when kids are out of school," Gleason said.

"Social media is a great way to spread good news," Jane Baker commented. She added that some of her girl friends from high school joined the family in New York for the walk/run and asked for donations through social media.

"People, even kids, can make a difference. There’s always something you can do to help someone," Drew said.

For further information about the FundRazor, contact Lisa Gleason via e-mail: More FUNDRAZOR, page A3

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