Author: Richard Plotkin, MCF Vice-Chairman
I recently had the pleasure of attending the 5th grade graduations of my grandson, Max Plotkin, and of Qualeek McNeil. These 11 year old boys have much in common in addition to the fact they are looking forward in September to entering into middle school, including the fact they were both afflicted by childhood cancers at young ages, Max on the eve of his 4th birthday and Qualeek when he was 6 years old. Max was diagnosed with B-Cell Lymphoma and Qualeek with brain cancer. Qualeek, due to the chemotherapy treatment he received, is partially deaf, one of the insidious side effects experienced by pediatric cancer survivors. Max is considered a childhood cancer survivor whereas Qualeek still goes for periodic treatments but thankfully every indication is he, too, will be a survivor of pediatric cancer.
Max graduated from the Smith School in Tenafly, New Jersey, an upscale suburban community, just minutes from Manhattan. Qualeek graduated from P.S. 309 in the Bedford Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, also just minutes from Manhattan. Despite their respective proximities to Manhattan, the communities in which these two boys reside are as different as two communities could be. However, what was not different was the pride felt by the parents and relatives of those graduating from the 5th grade and the joy that filled the two school auditoriums, one in Tenafly and one in Bedford Stuyvesant. A significant moment for me at Qualeek’s graduation, in addition to Qualeek winning a medal placed around his neck for his participation in music activities, came from one of the speakers who looked directly at the children, all of whom appeared to be African American or Hispanic, telling them that if they work hard and continue in school, there is no reason why they could not become doctors or lawyers or indeed, as stated by the speaker, “as recent events have proven, even President of the United States.” Wow, that was a powerful message and reinforced how significant it is that this country elected, and then re-elected, an African American as President. The program distributed at Qualeek’s graduation prominently displays the following words on the top of the cover page, “We Believe, We Will Achieve.”
Qualeek was among the first three children whose families were included in the Roar Beyond Barriers program launched in New York City in November, 2011. He and his family attended our Family Day Carnivals in East Hampton during the summers of 2012 and 2013, having stayed at my home in Amagansett during their 2012 visit. Qualeek and his mother, Felicia, attended the Gala on the eve of the September, 2012 Golf Outing with Trent Tucker’s All4Kids Foundation and met celebrity guests such as Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, John Starks, Greg Anthony and Trent Tucker, all having played for the Knicks, and Mike Woodson (then coach of the Knicks) and Howard Cross former NFL All-Pro player for the Giants – and many other celebrity athletes and entertainers. A special friendship developed between Max and Qualeek at these events, a friendship that came about because it is evident that childhood cancers do not discriminate based on race, creed, or socio economic circumstances.
I was honored when, several months ago, Felicia told me that Qualeek asked if I could attend his graduation (I told her I would not miss it for the world) and was particularly moved when I saw the smile on his face as he saw me waiting outside P.S. 309 as he and Felicia approached the school for Qualeek’s special day. I quickly understood how significant the Roar Beyond Barriers program is not only in that it financially assists low income families battling cancer in their children, but it also gives the message to the children afflicted with cancer that others care about them. That I was selected by Qualeek to be one of his four guests, made me realize that The Max Cure Foundation is indeed making a difference in the lives of children with cancer and their families.