(Note: This story has been updated from the print edition.)
Benicia Middle School will be partnering with the American Red Cross to host a blood drive Saturday for two children who have battled cancer in the past year, one a BMS student and the other the son of one of its administrators.
In September 2015, Sage Nelson, a second-grader at Matthew Turner Elementary, was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma, an aggressive B-cell lymphoma which was discovered on Sage’s tonsil. Sage’s mother Maya is a vice principal at BMS, and his father Cliff is an English teacher at Liberty High School.
Shortly thereafter, 14-year-old Ruby Goshert was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, an extremely rare form of cancer that has had fewer than 1,000 cases per year and mainly attacks bones and soft tissue.
Maya says her son finished his immune treatments in November and mostly does monthly checkups now.
“His immune system is almost back to normal,” she said.
Ruby’s mother Danielle says her daughter is four treatments away from being done with her treatments.
“We anticipate about three more months of treatment,” she said.
Two funds were established to provide support to both families for treatments and medical costs. The Super Sage Fund was named for Sage’s love of superheroes— especially Iron Man—, and the Yellow Ribbon Ruby Fund was named for the logo used for bone cancer patients. Both Sage and Ruby have benefited greatly from blood donations, and their mothers have expressed gratitude to the community for their support.
“It’s overwhelming, but Benicia is an incredible place to live,” Maya said. “My husband grew up here and actually went to school with Ruby’s mom. The fact that we have that in common and that our families have lived in this town for a long time, then they’ve all reached out to both of our families so much. We’re just incredibly grateful for everything we’ve received from the community and all the overwhelming support.”
Danielle says that Ruby has received a lot of support from the Benicia Middle School Viking Band which her daughter was a member of, and she is planning to move on to Benicia High School’s Panther Band.
“They’ve been the foundation of our support, along with family and other community members,” Danielle said. “Maya’s been wonderful. She’s been through this and is Ruby’s vice principal, so school and community have rallied around us.”
Maya began working on the blood drive in March. After meeting with the Red Cross in April, she was able to set up a date before the end of the school year and included Ruby’s family.
“It’s always difficult to get blood during the summer, so we wanted to make sure we could get something in the works before the end of the school year,” she said. “It also helps that I’m here at the middle school, and I’m able to work on it in that way.”
Maya says that the event has received a lot of signups online, but people can still sign up on the day of the event. Additionally, she says that people can sign up for another blood drive if they can not make it to this one, and donations of platelets are also accepted.
“There’s facilities in the area that accept platelet donations and they’ll take a longer amount of time but we want to make sure people understand that they’re well-needed,” she said. “Both our children have received platelet donations, so we’re hoping that people can do that as well. You can give platelet donations more often than you can donate blood because your platelets can regenerate faster.”
Both Maya and Danielle have advised parents going through similar situations to reach out to others as much as possible.
“Learn to ask for help and start to know what it is that you do need,” Danielle said. “It requires a lot of energy to go through this, and you end up making friendships and meeting people that you might not otherwise need. In one respect, the benefit of going through this is you broaden your community interaction.”
The blood drive will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, June 4 in the Benicia Middle School gym, located at 1100 Southampton Road. Appointments can be made by entering the sponsor code “Benicia” online at RedCrossBlood.org or through the Red Cross Blood Donor application, or by calling 1-800-733-2767. Donors must present a blood donor card or driver’s license and must be at least 17 years old, weigh at least 110 pounds and be in generally good health. Donors do not have to fast ahead of time, but they are encouraged to drink lots of water and not do strenuous activities immediately afterwards. Snacks will be provided to donors who have just finished giving blood. For more information, call the middle school at 747-8340. Additionally, Ruby has a crowdfunding page at GoFundMe.com/9w5dffuc (The creator of Sage’s GoFundMe page has chosen to close it).