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PEPPERELL — The Family Tree Child Care Center of Pepperell held its annual bike-a-thon on Thursday, July 23. This year, Director Kim Casey decided to raise funds for a cause closer to home. The event has traditionally benefited St. Jude’s, but this year Casey said the center was especially touched by the effort because it would support one of their own.

Students pedaled bikes and trikes for friend and fellow classmate Craig House and his battle with cancer.

“It all started with a pain on the top of my left shoulder and then it went down my left side,” House said, “It didn’t seem like a big deal.”

It certainly didn’t seem like anything life threatening according, to his mother Meghan Pajer. “Never in a million years did we see this coming” she said, “Craig had a CT scan and when the team of doctors were there for the results I knew it couldn’t be good news.”

“We were told he had cancer and within a week he went through a kidney biopsy that confirmed that he had Precursor-B Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma,” said Casey

The National Cancer Institute defines the condition as “an aggressive (fast-growing) type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in which too many lymphoblasts (immature white blood cells) are found in the lymph nodes and the thymus gland.” Pajer said that there was no known family history and was relieved that doctors predict her 5-year-old daughter has only a “slightly increased risk” for a similar condition.

At 9 years old, House lives with a port in his chest to facilitate regular blood tests, IVs and chemotherapy treatments. He has had to forego all contact sports, struggles to throw a football, had to park his bike for a while because of poor balance and deals with weaker than normal legs due to nerve damage.

The young boy doesn’t complain much when asked about dealing with his cancer, but he does admit that the hardest part was going under anesthesia during a phase of treatment that required weekly spinal taps. Because the cancer was diagnosed early on, his mother said that he has not had to endure radiation.

Pajer says that she is extremely proud of her son, even with his ups and downs “he is determined to beat it” and describes him as the “same old happy kid”.

“Craig is a remarkable young man,” said Casey. “You won’t catch him without a smile.”

Noah Bestgen gave House a huge bear hug and proclaimed himself as “Craig’s best friend since forever.”

“My whole family loves him and we were very, very upset when we didn’t know what was wrong,” said Bestgen.

Craig and sister Rachael have attended The Family Tree for several years. “Since Craig was diagnosed, the support from the school has been amazing,” said Pajer. “They go above and beyond what anyone could ever expect. We really appreciate it.”

Pajer said she was also grateful to her mother, who quit work to shuttle her son to Boston for treatments.

“As a single mom, I am continuing at my job and my mother helps keep a sense of normalcy for the family,” she said.

House receives ongoing care at The Center for Pediatric Hematology and Oncology, Yawkey Center — part of Massachusetts General Hospital.

While the Cancer Center is renowned for its world-class pediatric care and cutting edge research, it is not an “in network” provider for House’s insurance. As a result, the patient covers a larger percentage of costs “out of pocket”. Pajer emphasizes that her number one priority was getting her son the best possible care and found the doctors and staff “just awesome.”

The chemotherapy treatments are expected to continue for two years. During his more precarious phases, House was schooled by a tutor and successfully maintained his academic level. This fall, House is expected to begin the maintenance phase of treatment and will return full time to his fifth-grade class in Pepperell.

For the bike-a-thon, the preschool children rode 800 laps in the closed off school parking lot and the grade schoolers rode as far as six miles along the town’s Rail Trail. A cloudy day provided some relief from the heat, but everyone was monitored closely, given plenty of water and treated to a cookout at the event’s conclusion.

“We have raised at least $2,000.00, twice as much as last year,” Casey said. “We did very well and I am really pleased considering the economy. We hope the proceeds will provide a little relief and help cover the mounting medical costs.”

She said that she is especially grateful to her students and staff for their involvement, the extra efforts of Bob Cordeiro, the Brookline Icebreakers, Masy Systems and all the generous contributions from family and friends.

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