Jackson School for the Arts will collect donations of stuffed animals and art supplies at Saturday’s 2020 All District Arts Extravaganza to donate to Akron Children’s Hospital’s oncology unit — an idea inspired by three students who are cancer survivors.

JACKSON TWP. Mackenzie Roach remembers 2011 as the year she was disappointed because she wouldn’t have the chance to dance in “The Nutcracker.”

She was 8 years old when she had a brain tumor removed at Akron Children’s Hospital, and was diagnosed afterward with posterior fossa syndrome, which affected her speech, movement and swallowing.

She fell in love with dancing as a toddler, but she would need to relearn how to walk again before she could dance.

By the next year, Roach was back on her feet, performing in “The Nutcracker.” She has continued to work on her dancing skills at the Jackson School for the Arts (JSA).

“I had to relearn everything — walk, talk, sit up, swallow,” Roach said. “After that, I just continued to work hard.”

The now 16-year-old will perform a solo dance featuring elements of jazz in the 2020 All District Arts Extravaganza. The annual event showcases the talents of JSA students and will take place Saturday.

Senior Mandi Jodon and junior Emma Maier, both enrolled in JSA, also are cancer survivors who underwent treatment at Akron Children’s.

Through their shared experiences, the girls and the JSA academy leadership team decided to hold a drive during the event to benefit the hospital. Donations of stuffed animals and art supplies will be collected and passed on to the oncology unit.


Susan Gardner, Jackson School for Arts director, said the arts event typically draws 1,500 people. Each year, the school partners with another organization as a way to give back to the community.

Students and staff at Jackson have a strong connection to Akron Children’s hospital, Gardner said, prompting them to choose the oncology unit.

“They’re my survivors,” she said of Roach, Jodon and Maier. “... Kids in Jackson School for the Arts are very lucky. They’re given a lot of opportunities by being in this academy, and so we try to reach out and help someone else.”

In August 2018, Maier learned she had a brain tumor. She had surgery at Akron Children’s Hospital to help drain the fluid around her brain, and then a second surgery at the Cleveland Clinic to remove the tumor.

It wasn’t until after its removal that she learned it was cancerous. She underwent radiation and has periodically been back to the doctor for followups. Since radiation, she has had four clean MRIs, she said.

The hardest part, she added, was being out of school for three weeks and dance for six weeks.

“I felt like I couldn’t do anything,” Maier said. “I was physically exhausted and mentally exhausted.”

Undergoing surgery and treatment was frightening, she said. When she went into surgery, Maier brought along a large stuffed bear that had been given to her at the hospital.

She understands firsthand the comfort a stuffed animal or a blanket can give to a child in treatment or recovery.

"It was just hard to find something comforting,” Maier said.

Passing the time

Though Jodon, then 14, only spent a few days at Akron Children’s, it felt like weeks.

When Jodon’s mother took her to get a lump on her throat checked, the week between the initial appointment and the surgery was a blur.

Doctors had told her and her family the mass was likely benign, Jodon said.

During surgery, however, that changed. Jodon was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and along with the mass, her thyroid and two lymph nodes were removed. She went through radiation to prevent it from spreading.

After her surgery, the now 17-year-old recalls wishing for something to do because she was tired of being in bed.

“It can get really boring,” Roach agreed. “You don’t want to stare at a white wall.”

Though Roach still has some complications from her diagnosis, she said, she has been working to help those facing a similar diagnosis.

Roach volunteers at the Akron facility and takes a craft cart around to the kids to help them find something to pass the time. She is also a member of a teen advisory group, which is dedicated to making hospital stays more comfortable for fellow teens.

During her days in recovery at Akron Children’s, Jodon was bored and went for a walk through the hallway. It was during that walk she discovered she was on the oncology floor. In the few days she stayed at the hospital, she colored a lot, she said.

On July 18, Jodon was declared cancer free.

Being a cancer survivor has had a huge impact on Jodon. The senior plans to attend Kent State University in the fall to study psychology. After completing her four-year degree, Jodon hopes to continue into the physician assistant program to work for oncology or endocrinology.

Watching the nurses interact with the young patients inspired her.

“That was right when I decided what I wanted to do with my life,” Jodon said. “I wanted to do something with pediatric oncology. I wanted to be like those nurses that were taking care of those kids.”

Reach Samantha at 330-775-1133 or Samantha.Ickes@IndeOnline.com

On Twitter: @SickesINDE