NORWALK, Conn. – Even with hundreds of Norwalk children to look after, it wasn't hard for Rick McQuaid to see that something was wrong with one 7-year-old who looked like someone "took the batteries out of him." It turned out the boy's mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
That was three years ago at Norwalk's Play and Learn Camp. Since then, a lesson about "the difference one person can make" tossing coins in an old jug has led to an annual "Coins for Cancer" drive. Sam Tartaglia, now 9, was among the children watching Monday as his mother, a breast cancer survivor, was on hand at Marvin Elementary School to help accept an estimated $2,000 in donations for the Norwalk Hospital Whittingham Center.
This year for the first time, all five Play and Learn sites, serving 600 children, were involved, organizers say. JB's Deli also contributed money from a can on the counter that netted $380.
"Every time I come here there are more and more gigantic bottles of money," Roseanne Shegirian, annual giving manager at Norwalk Hospital Foundation, told the 240 children at gathered at Marvin School for the Monday morning presentation. "It makes a huge difference for our hospital. Your dollars add up to help all our moms feel better, get better, get better help."
The kids were told by Mary Heery, a breast health specialist at the Smilow Family Breast Health Center, that it's important for their mothers to get mammograms. Sam's mom, Alexa Tartagalia, and Susan Hayes, the mother of another camper and also a breast cancer survivor, smiled when Heery said, "You've got to get your mammograms early, so it's curable and you can grow up to be old ladies."
McQuaid, who is now Norwalk's Town Clerk but was for years a leader of the camp, recounted noticing that a very active child who had been in the camp since kindergarten was suddenly quiet. "We realized something was really wrong with Sam," McQuaid said. "We sat down and chatted with him, and he goes, 'My mom has cancer, I think she's going to die.' "
"That's all he needed to say. 'How can we help Sam?' That's how it all grew."
Heery said there are many programs to help women get mammograms. For more information, call 203-852-2300.