COLUMBUS — Erin Nahorny was embraced by her son as she fought back tears.
The local mother, joined by her husband Chris, was addressing the crowd Saturday evening at Glow Gold Honors Night, an annual childhood cancer awareness event, when young Sammy wrapped his arms around his mom as she spoke about the continued importance of the event.
“We are going to continue to do this until we don’t have to fight for money or funding for research. We are not going to give up. We are going to do this for all the kids who are not with us anymore,” Nahorny said.
The Columbus family learned about the lack of funding for childhood cancer research after Sammy was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, when he was just 4 years old. Friends started fundraising by selling T-shirts to support the family. Those efforts led to the creation of the nonprofit Sammy’s Superheroes Foundation.
The organization is dedicated to raising awareness and money for research projects aimed at finding cures for childhood cancers. Since it was established in 2013, the nonprofit has provided more than $300,000 for the cause.
Glow Gold, held Saturday at Lakeview Junior/Senior High School, is the group's largest event.
“This is by far our signature event. Fundraising and raising awareness are two important things for Sammy’s Superheroes. This is going to help us raise money for funding research,” said Jeremy Stanislav, executive director of the foundation.
Glow Gold is held in September during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. It is geared toward families who have children with cancer and honors the survivors and those who have been lost.
Fundraising is just one aspect of the event. It is also about the families.
“It’s really about showing them they are supported, that they are loved and that Sammy’s Superheroes and even the town of Columbus is really here to support them and fight with them,” Stanislav said.
About 50 families attended, most of whom are from Nebraska.
Among those were Tim and Erin Seretta of Papillion.
The couple lost their 7-month-old son Henry to cancer in November 2014. Henry had acute myeloid leukemia and was put in a medically-induced coma. He was in the hospital for 12 days until he had complete organ failure.
The Serettas attended Glow Gold the two previous years and Tim said it provides them with an opportunity to meet families who have gone through similar experiences.
The Mostek family of Hebron wasn’t able to go to Glow Gold last year because their son Aiden was undergoing radiation treatment in Chicago for his cancer. He was diagnosed with a soft-tissue cancer in January 2016. After 54 weeks of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation, the 9-year-old is now cancer-free.
Jennifer Mostek, who attended the event with her husband Adam and sons Aiden and Jacob, 4, said she wasn’t aware of the lack of funding for childhood cancer research, even though she worked in cancer treatment centers. A fundraiser in her community generated $1,500 for Sammy’s Superheroes.
“We’ve been supporting Sammy’s Superheroes because they support all childhood cancer research. When your kid gets diagnosed, you learn a lot of terrible things about the (lack of) funding,” she said.
Last year alone, the local nonprofit gave $130,000 to research. Other funding has been used for family outreach programs.
Stanislav hopes Sammy’s Superheroes will continue to grow from its grassroots beginnings to an organization that has the same impact on childhood cancer as the Susan G. Komen Foundation has on breast cancer.
“One of the things I’d like to see us do within the next five years is to see us become a million-dollar research funder by us giving out a million dollars’ worth of grants each year. That’s our goal,” he said.