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Oakmont team will Relay in honor of principal

Sirovy lost battle with brain cancer, co-captain beat thyroid cancer
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Oakmont High School junior Julie Zimmer wears a silver necklace pretty much every day.

The pendant, a ribbon, is a reminder of her battle with cancer. Not that she needs a reminder. Zimmer, 16, says the challenges of the disease shaped the young woman she is today.

"I don't know who I would be without it," Zimmer said.

She's participating in Relay for Life at Woodcreek High School in Roseville on Saturday, April 28. Her team, Vikings Fighting Cancer, will circle the track for 24 hours in honor of Zimmer, and in recognition of former Oakmont Principal Kathleen Sirovy.

Sirovy passed away in August from an inoperable form of brain cancer. She had worked for the Roseville Joint Union High School District since 1972 and was a beloved administrator among students and colleagues.

"(The relay) is a way to connect us back to our school, our community, our peers," said team co-captain Kate Smith.

Co-captain Chelsea Boyd also appreciates that Relay for Life raises funds for the American Cancer Society to research various forms of cancer.

"We like that it doesn't focus on just one kind of cancer because cancer affects all of us in different ways," Boyd said.

The three teens decided to form their team as a result of their involvement in Oakmont's International Baccalaureate program, which requires students to complete community service. Their team now has 12 members. They hope to get close to the maximum number of 24 members and raise at least $500.

"(We're) raising money and awareness and fighting cancer," Smith said. "It's huge."

All three captains have a personal relationship to cancer. Smith's grandfather died of cancer and her uncle died of leukemia before she was born. She also had a mole biopsied, which turned out benign. But just the threat was scary.

Boyd's grandmother and mother had several cancerous melanomas removed. She worries about cancer being passed down and affecting her and her little sister.

Zimmer's grandmother passed away from cancer and her aunt had ovarian cancer. Her own battle came in May 2007 when she was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer. She had no symptoms except a lump on her throat. She flew to Florida for a biopsy. The cancer was found in a thyroglossal duct cyst under her chin.

"The hardest part is not knowing, it's so rare," Zimmer said. "Mine was the 23rd case in history, so no one knew what to do. And being 11, that's an awkward age. So it was no fun. I didn't even know what a thyroid was."

Her dad described cancer as her body being attacked by "bad cells," and she remembers imagining cells "in ninja outfits." Zimmer underwent treatment from December to January and was declared cancer-free Jan. 14, 2008. She said the experience made her grow up quicker than a typical child.

"I wasn't concerned about planning my birthday party," she said. "I was flying somewhere to go get a biopsy."

Zimmer says she's now proactive with her health. But her cancer battle still makes its presence known, through regular blood tests and a daily pill.

Smith remembers when she found out her friend had cancer.

"Cancer, that's a really big, scary thing," Smith said. "I remember how (Julie) was always so positive about it. That was the coolest thing."

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Why We Relay: This is the third in a three-part series on why locals participate in the Roseville Relay for Life.

Roseville Relay for Life

What: 24-hour relay to raise funds for the American Cancer Society

When: 9 a.m. Saturday, April 28, to 9 a.m. Sunday, April 29

Where: Woodcreek High School, 2551 Woodcreek Oaks Blvd., Roseville

Info: www.relayforlife.org/rosevilleca

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To donate to the Vikings Fighting Cancer team for Relay for Life, visit http://main.acsevents.org/goto/oakmontvikings.