Tracey Zamora of Sparks was 12 years old when she died in December after fighting brain cancer for more than a year. Tracey’s family, including her younger brother Tommy, 9, attended Wednesday’s “preshave” in advance of today’s larger St. Baldrick’s Foundation event in Reno. The Sparks firefighters and today’s participants are going bald to raise money to fund research for cures for childhood cancer.
“She was a very good kid,” Tracey’s mother, Analiza, said. “Such a fighter, such a trooper. She never complained once.”
Tracey was diagnosed with a brain tumor in October 2009. She underwent brain surgery at Lucile Packard’s Children’s Hospital at Stanford University that revealed the tumor was located around the brain stem.
“The prognosis was terminal with 12-15 months of survival rate depending on how effective radiation and chemo was,” her family wrote on the St. Baldrick’s website. “Tracey went on to endure a second brain surgery, experimental chemo, radiation and then eight more months of chemo.”
“She didn’t wear a wig,” Analiza said. “She just went to school anyway. She said, ‘Who cares, mom?’ ”
Tracey’s stepfather, Edward Beroza, said the chemotherapy was physically taxing for Tracey, but seemed to stop the growth of the tumor for the first few months.
“Then it all of a sudden came back in another part of her brain,” Beroza said.
On Dec. 26, 2010, Tracey succumbed to her illness, but not before leaving a lasting impression on Sparks firefighter Kevin Jakubos.
“I was with her through her journey of cancer,” Jakubos said.
Along with his role as a Sparks firefighter, Jakubos teaches at the University of Nevada, Reno Fire Science Academy. As part of a community outreach program, the fire academy instructors and students mentor local elementary school students through pen pal correspondence.
“We partnered with teachers at Kate Smith Elementary,” Jakubos said, which is where he met Tracey.
“The whole time she was in treatment, all she wanted was her letters and homework,” Jakubos said.
Reno’s main St. Baldrick’s “shave” event will take place at 5 p.m. today at the Reno-Sparks Livestock Event Center. The Sparks firemen, including Jakubos, will be busy working at that time so they sacrificed their hair Wednesday.
Jakubos, Darin Berry, Jarrod Stewart and Bill Macaulay were the first firemen to go under the shears Wednesday. Shortly after Kristen Buchanan of Caesar’s Beauty World finished shaving his head, Jakubos talked about Tracey, and how he admired the little girl for her courage throughout her treatment.
“I never heard her complain,” Jakubos said. “It was amazing to see that in a fifth-grade girl.”
Along with participation in the St. Baldrick’s fundraising event, the Sparks Fire Department and the Northern Nevada Cancer Society have formed the Northern Nevada Random Acts of Kindness campaign to bring happiness to children who are being treated in the region’s cancer centers.
Stewart, the department’s charitable organizations coordinator, said Random Acts of Kindness began in Oakland and is all about community involvement. Children with cancer often are sent to Oakland for treatment, and Stewart said Random Acts of Kindness will be going with those children and stopping along the way to purchase toys or help other wishes come true.
“We will start visiting the kids at the infusion clinic at Renown,” Stewart said.
According to its website, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation is a volunteer-driven charity that funds more in childhood cancer research grants than any organization except the U.S. government. The foundation was started on March 17, 2000, when reinsurance executives John Bender, Tim Kenny and Enda McDonnell turned their industry’s St. Patrick’s Day party into a head-shaving event to benefit kids with cancer. Their 20 “shavee” recruits planned to raise “$17,000 on the 17th.” Instead, they raised more than $104,000.
Since that time, St. Baldrick’s has expanded into every state and St. Baldrick’s Day shave events held annually on St. Patrick’s Day have raised more than $90 million for research. For more information or to donate, visit www.stbaldricks.org.