Online fundraiser held for 6-year-old Leukemia patient


Caitlin O’Halloran Reporter

The Pediatric Cancer Awareness Organization (PCAO) held an online fundraising gala for a six-year-old battling cancer.  

Sophie Tzunum was chosen as PCAO’s “Child of the Year.” She is a six-year-old first-grader from Naugatuck with High-Risk Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.   

“Our mission is to just let kids be kids and to bring back childhood,” said President of PCAO, Olivia Zembruski. “We focus on all types of pediatric cancers, we’re not like leukemia driven organization or brain tumor organization, we’re just helping kids that need help.”  

Sophie has been in treatment since Jan. 28, 2020, and is on the track to complete her treatment by June of 2022, according to Zembruski.  

“We’re hosting this virtual gala where people can purchase a different level ticket at different prices and then all the money raised is going to go towards Sophie’s family, we’re going to cut them a check to go directly to them and then they can use that money to help offset the cost of treatment because a lot of childhood cancer treatment is not covered by insurance so it is very pricey,” said PCAO, vice president Regina Misercola.  

The event took place on Friday, April 30, at 7 p.m. on WebEx.  

“I really am a strong proponent for patient advocacy, I think it’s so important that the community responds when there is illness and health issues on an individual basis as well as sort of on a more broad-spectrum basis of making available the appropriate resources to people who are in need,” said Adviser of PCAO, Sarah Crawford.  

PCAO works closely with the chosen child of the year, including putting on events she can participate in, such as an easter egg hunt, Christmas celebrations, a birthday parade for her birthday and other smaller things like hangouts with Sophie.  

“This family is extremely special because this is not their first run with childhood cancer, Sophie’s older sister Scarlett, I believe they’re 16 months apart, is a leukemia survivor,” said Zembruski. “Scarlett was declared three years cancer free in December of this past year.”  

There are four different levels of tickets that could have been bought, which is where most money is raised for the fundraiser. Then, there are different amounts for the organizations honorary sponsors ranging between $50, $75 and $100.  

“The support from the Southern community and the New Haven County community in general has really blown our organization away, we always say it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a special kind of community to support a child and a family through their battle with cancer, especially a family going through it their second time,” said Zembruski.  

There was a special message from Sophie and her family at the event, a performance given by The Voice’s Taryn Papa and Forever Miss Connecticut 2019/2020, a childhood cancer survivor and SCSU student, Jillian Duffy.  

“It’s been hard with COVID to get involved with hospitals because usually, we go and hangout with kids who are in treatment in hospitals but obviously we couldn’t do that this semester, but even barring all of the obstacles I still think it’s pretty incredible that we’ve been able to raise so far over $5,000 for Sophie,” said Misercola. , “So still doing good things and what we’re going to continue to do this year and then next semester and the semesters coming is just continue to help the kids that are fighting or will be fighting cancer.”  

During the event, Crawford gave a presentation about leukemia and positively spoke on the research that is being done for these types of issues and illnesses that arise.  

“I think this is a wonderful thing to do. I think it’s so great that students are involved, there’s so many students in the Pediatric Cancer Awareness Organization, I’m so impressed,” said Crawford. “They are such giving people, they really are. It’s just been a wonderful experience for me to associate with them.” 

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