Scholarship inspires student’s chance to give back

Sara Amato has paid it forward – and back.

The Communication Sciences and Disorders student was a recent recipient of a scholarship from Childhood Childhood Cancer Canada (CCC). Founded in 1987, the organization is the country’s leading foundation dedicated entirely to the fight against childhood cancer.

Amato was diagnosed with leukemia at age 2 while growing up in Sault Ste. Marie. For the next three years, her life was centred on hospitals, doctor visits and chemotherapy. At 5, she was deemed cancer free. She is 24 today, and thrilled to be cancer free.

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“I had chemo for three years, travelling between Sault Ste. Marie and Toronto,” Amato said. “I can remember certain experiences of that time, but a lot of it I learned from my parents, through their stories and photos. I actually think it was more difficult for my parents to experience.”

The $1,500 scholarship, targeted for cancer survivors studying in a health-care field, assisted her with her schooling expenses. While anyone would be grateful with such a scholarship, Amato decided to take her appreciation a step further.

“I began to learn more about Childhood Cancer Canada and got in touch with them to see how I could get more involved,” she said. “Something just hit me that they’re giving out so many scholarships to all these cancer survivors.

“So, I wanted to get involved somehow, to give something back.”

The organization suggested a head-shaving fundraiser, working with U.S.-based St. Baldrick’s Foundation – a partner with CCC in childhood cancer research. A couple of months ago, Amato began putting the event together.

However, up until a week prior to last week’s event, she had only three people willing to go under the razor. It was a challenge to organize, admitted Amato, who was “begging people at lunch” to get their heads shaved.

Come the day of the event, 13 people, including “walk-up shaves,” took the event over the top.

“Originally, I was going to try and raise the $1,500 on my own,” said Amato, who graduates this summer. “I was not expecting so many people. I was really surprised because it was initially such a small-scale event, but it just exploded.”

In fact, the event grew to the point that faculty members and students from areas including Physical Therapy, Audiology, Occupational Therapy, Engineering, Medicine and others brought in more than $5,300, well exceeding her initial goal.

“I’m so appreciate of all the help I received with this,” Amato said. “It (cancer) has shaped me to who I am today. I’ve learned through it, the stories, dealing with leukemia.

“I figured I’ve beat that, and now, I can do whatever I want.”