Jessica’s Heroes raises $62,000 to help local people battle cancer

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ONEIDA — After Jessica’s Heroes 5K Walk and Run, the Jessica’s Heroes Foundation has raised more than $62,000 to help local people battle cancer.

“The people that were there were excited to be back out in the community, back together, and having a good time,” Co-founder Amy Ross said.

The turnout was a little down from last year, but the support from the community was stronger than ever. And even if they weren’t physically there, people signed up and were there in spirit.

Donations from the community and local organizations alongside individuals helped Jessica’s Heroes meet their mark.

“We had 20 teams sign up this year,” Ward 1 Councilor and committee member Carrie Earl said. “Besides just raising money, another goal of ours is to raise awareness and build up the community. So our goal as a committee was to have teams.”

Some hard work and friendly competition helped raise spirits and funds for local cancer patients. Otto-Shortell Middle School managed to raise $400 and held their own 5K during lunch. Co-founder Susan Jones said Oneida High School Cross Country team not only raised $250, but they’ll be running the Jessica’s Heroes 5K next year as a team.

Staff at Jessica’s Heroes wanted to make clear that their mission is to help anyone and everyone who is fighting cancer.

“Since the race, we’ve had a rash of people approach us,” Ross said. “In the last week, I’ve sent out checks to five different people.”

At the race itself, people approached Jessica’s Heroes staff with requests for help for family and friends.

Among those who have benefitted from the work of Jessica’s Heroes is Amber Baum-Kodya.

Amber was born and raised in east Syracuse. She worked at the Turning Stone Casino, where she would meet her future husband, Paul. The two have lived in Oneida for a while now, and the couple’s future seemed perfect — but then Amber found a lump just two days before the wedding. “I almost called the wedding off because I was so nervous.”

And trying to get in to see a doctor during the COVID-19 pandemic was its own challenge — almost impossible, Amber said. But she and Paul went forward with the wedding while Amber tried to get ahold of the doctor’s office for an emergency appointment.

She never received a callback, and when she grew ill, it was a trip to the emergency room that started the road to recovery.

“I blurted out to the emergency room staff that I thought I had breast cancer,” Amber said. “A week later and I was seeing Doctor John Kelly at Oneida Surgical Group. And from there, it was two weeks until it was confirmed. I had breast cancer.”

Kelly gave Amber several options going forward, but she went with the safest option — a bi-lateral double mastectomy.

Amber said she was scared to death — her whole world was ripped out from underneath her and she didn’t want to take any chances. “I didn’t want to go through this again.”

It was a month from diagnosis to surgery and from there, a difficult road to recovery. But it was a road that Amber didn’t have to travel alone. A friend of hers had gotten in touch with Jessica’s Heroes and put them in contact.

“It’s horrible to say but I never knew Jessica’s Heroes existed until I was diagnosed,” Amber said. “They steered me in so many directions to help me. They helped and showed me other people going through the same thing so you don’t have to do this alone.”

Advocates at Jessica’s Heroes offered Amber help while she was recovering, whether it was being someone she could talk to or helping take care of groceries or other expenses. Overall, Amber said her fight against cancer would have been much harder without Jessica’s Heroes.

“Jessica’s Heroes said if I needed anything, all I had to do was get in touch with them.”

Amber’s still going through the treatment process but she has a clear vision of her future and Jessica’s Heroes.

“When this is all said and done with, I’m going to be their biggest volunteer,” she said. “It’s the least I can do. You’re not alone.”

Jessica’s Heroes offers a number of resources on its websites to help cancer patients find information, services, or the help they need. To learn more or to donate, visit jessicasheroesfoundation.com.

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