Members of the St. Thomas More Faith Can Cure Cancer Club participate in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure last fall. (Submitted photo courtesy St. Thomas More High School, Milwaukee)

Last fall, St. Thomas More junior Kaitlin Kizewski wanted to do something to raise money to help cancer patients.

As a child, she couldn’t comprehend the magnitude of the disease after losing her grandpa to lung cancer, but as a teen, cancer has chipped away at her heart on a number of levels. Several staff members of St. Thomas More have survived various forms of cancer, and one is currently battling lymphoma. The disease recently hit Kizewski on a personal level as well.

“In the past year, I found out that one of my close friends, who I have known for the past 12 years, could possibly have cancer,” said the 16-year-old.  “This affected me so much more than it did when I was younger. I was very upset, just like anyone would be.”

After reflecting on the many people directly or indirectly affected by the ravages of cancer, Kizewski put her Catholic faith into action by approaching guidance counselor Sara Vahl about moderating a club called, “Faith Can Cure Cancer.”

“She said she wanted to start it because cancer is something that affects everyone,” said Vahl. “And since we began, we have already 40 members in the group. We were shocked at the amount of students who were willing to step up and not only join the club, but participate and run events. It continues to grow as the year goes on.”

For Kizewski, it was an opportunity to share her faith and give back to others in the community.

“I have been very blessed in my life, and I feel that it is important to help those around me,” she said. “My parents have always told me that I should put others before myself, so I will always help others when they need it. An important part of being a Catholic is helping others, so by creating this club and promoting cancer awareness I do feel that I am living my Catholic faith through this club.”

So far, the club participated in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, sold pink carnations in October for breast cancer and donated the money to the Susan G. Komen fund.

Last November, students paid $2 to wear a hat to school with proceeds going to Caps for Kids Foundation, a non-profit organization that donates celebrity autographed hats and sports memorabilia to children with cancer.

“We have raised over $1,000 this year already,” said Vahl. “We will be starting the Pennies for Patients contest, and in May we will also be doing a pony tail drive and hair stylists around the city will volunteer their time to cut each participant’s hair for free and the hair will go toward making wigs for cancer patients. We will recognize those who donate their hair and those who are cancer survivors on our staff at our all-school Mass the next day.”

In raising funds for research, Kizewski hopes a cure comes soon so cancer sufferers no longer feel helpless.

“I also wanted to create this club because I want to raise awareness of cancer, and let those who are currently dealing with the disease know that there are people supporting them,” she said. “Cancer affects so many people and I believe that this club gives hope to those who are affected by cancer or know someone who has cancer.”

According to Kizewski, the club’s name was the collaborative effort of herself and four other students who wanted the name to contain the word cancer and a message relating it to their school.

“So we came up with Faith Can Cure Cancer,” she said, adding, “It is more of the idea that you should keep your faith in God while you or someone else is dealing with cancer.”

In addition to raising funds, students often gather to pray for others affected by the disease said Vahl.

“We pray for those suffering from, those who survived, or lost the battle to cancer over our morning announcements,” she said. “We have recognized specific people at school Masses. We also had shirts made, which can be seen on our Web site that states, ‘Faith can cure cancer: Praying for the survivors, remembering the taken, and never ever losing faith,’ It was Kaitlin who came up with that quote.”

While many high school students participate in fundraisers, Vahl is adamant that the values instilled in the Catholic education at St. Thomas More have played a significant role in the club’s creation and success.

“The selfless events, time, and effort all the students put into this club to raise awareness and money for those battling this horrible disease is a direct link to the message we portray at St. Thomas More,” she said. “I can’t think of a better way to communicate our Catholic faith than to watch our students modeling and living out the message of community service every day. The Faith Can Cure Cancer club exemplifies this message and allows students to actively participate in their faith.”