Show of support for Duluth East High School senior Rachel SandellA fundraiser for East High School senior Rachel Sandell today might have a special guest.
By: Steve Kuchera, Duluth News Tribune
A fundraiser for East High School senior Rachel Sandell today might have a special guest.
Sandell is scheduled to be home from Reno, Nev. — where she’s undergoing treatment for liver cancer — in time for the event at East High School.
“I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like to be back home, and for home to be so much more than I ever thought it was,” Katie Sandell, Rachel’s mother, said this week from Reno. “I can’t even believe all the support.”
That support has taken many forms. Members of Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Duluth, Sandell’s church, have provided meals, made 1,000 paper cranes — which, according to Japanese legend, will grant the maker a wish — and are hosting today’s fundraiser. A building owner is renting them a room in Reno for less than a third of its normal cost.
Rachel’s schoolmates displayed signs at the Minnesota State AA Hockey Tournament reading “The Love is On for Rachel.” And they have volunteered to help at today’s fundraiser.
“Rachel has a lot of spirit, and she has a lot of friends and people who care for her,” said Unitarian Church member Julie Morgan, who is helping to organize the event. “She’s well-known and well-liked by the students.”
Rachel, 17, is active on the dance team and in Key Club and the National Honor Society. She’s editor in chief of the yearbook.
Her health problems began early in 2010, when she developed a blood clot that moved to her leg. In March 2010, she developed shoulder pain. A CT scan was performed to determine whether she had developed another blood clot.
The scan found what turned out to be a cancerous tumor in her abdomen. The news devastated the Sandells.
“I can count on one hand the times Rachel has cried about having cancer, and that was one of them,” her mother said. “I remember walking into the house that night and thinking, ‘This place is changed forever.’ ”
The tumor was removed surgically, and medicine seemed to help check the cancer’s spread.
“She had been feeling great, good, strong,” Katie Sandell said. “She continued doing everything, having a great senior year.”
Then came February, and the bad news that the cancer had spread. The family began preparations to go to the Century Wellness Clinic in Reno, Nev., where — as Katie Sandell put it — doctors “smart-bomb” cancer cells by using insulin to lower Rachel’s blood-sugar level. The sugar-hungry cancer cells then more readily latch onto chemo drugs. The technique allows doctors to effectively attack cancer while using lower doses of drugs, thus avoiding or reducing unpleasant side-effects.
It seems to be working for Rachel.
“today is a GOOD NEWS kind of day!” she wrote on her online journal Monday, three weeks after beginning treatments. “so we were at the clinic today, and got the results of my most recent blood work back... and its all super super good. like way improved.”
“other good news is that IM COMING HOME APRIL FIRST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! … and i’ll be back for the fundraiser on that friday!! and then i can just see everyone in one big shot,” she wrote.
The idea of today’s fundraiser was born when members of the Sandells’ church learned Rachel’s cancer had returned and that she might go to Reno.
“It started as a fundraiser at our church for 100 or 150 people,” Morgan said. “That’s roughly what we have room for.”
But interest quickly outgrew the church’s space, as the East High School community, family friends and others became involved.
“East High School students are doing a lot of the servings and so much of the work,” Morgan said. “They said, ‘Just tell us how many volunteers you need.’ They really want to help.”
Debbie Freedman, a longtime family friend and one of event’s organizers, put up a Web post seeking volunteers to help make desserts.
“The phone was ringing within two minutes,” she said. “By the end of the day I had 15 more people who wanted to help. It’s really a great thing how people are coming out to help.”
“She is a remarkable girl,” Freedman said of Rachel. “She’s so real and has wisdom beyond her years. She has an amazing strength and attitude.” “I was there the day she learned to ride her bike. I’ve known her a long time and think she’s an amazing kid.”
If you go
Today’s fundraiser for the Sandell family begins at 6 p.m. at East High School. There will be a chili supper and silent auction from 6-8 p.m. Admission is a donation.
From 8-9 p.m. there will performances by the East dance team and area musicians including Sara Thomsen, Paula Pedersen and Rachael Kilgour.
People also can help the Sandell family with expenses by making a donation to the Rachel Sandell Benefit Fund at any Wells Fargo location.
Go to www.caringbridge.org/visit/rachelsandell to read Rachel Sandell’s online journal.