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Mr. Aloia Battles Cancer

Picture this: You’re walking down a road with a friend and see a cyclist. Your friend turns to you and says, “Oh hey, that’s Ralph, he has cancer.” Would your first reaction be that your friend is saying some insensitive quip about cancer? Or would you believe them? A month ago, if I had a friend say that a cyclist was in the midst of his cancer treatment, I would have thought that my friend was being fairly inappropriate. But what I’ve learned after talking to Ralph Aloia about his journey with cancer is that I would have been the one who’s too quick to judge. I can’t speak for everyone, but I do know that I’ve been given one lens to look through when thinking about cancer — it completely takes over the patient’s life making them incapable of living anything close to their lifestyle before cancer. Oh, how wrong I’ve been.

I met Ralph just a handful of times before we sat down and discussed him being a cancer survivor. In fact, I never knew he had cancer until I received an email this September that announced the anniversary of his last chemo treatment on September 11, 2016. After that, Ralph opened his doors to me and we spoke very frankly about his cancer treatment. The experience that he disclosed to me was eye-opening.

Ralph had Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, and he discovered this in March of 2016 after visiting the doctor for what he believed to be a pulled muscle from a foot race against his then 5th graders at Fairmont Anaheim Hills. Those same 5th graders were soon sending him king-sized “get well soon” cards, emails with their encouragement, and even cat memes to brighten his days while he was receiving treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York City — the same hospital his father received his cancer treatments.

While Ralph was going through weeks of chemotherapy and Ventoclax, which was, at the time, a new drug for Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, he missed his son dearly. JR was only one and a half at the time, and Ralph knew that he would be missing out on some precious moments in JR’s life. But, with today’s technology, Ralph made it through with FaceTime and keeping the perspective that this short time away from JR would lead to a lifetime with JR — a small sacrifice in the broad scheme of things.

Ralph, post-treatment, with his son at a baseball game.

Not only did Ralph focus on his son and his determination to live a long life with him, but Ralph also focused on keeping active, as much as possible, both intellectually and physically. Ralph solved the New York Times crossword puzzle with his mother daily. He walked and eventually cycled nearly daily. He discovered a love for cooking very bland meals (aside from the occasional indulgence in east coast pizza — I mean really can you live in New Jersey and not eat pizza?!). Now you may be thinking how could Ralph eat pizza when he’s going through chemotherapy? I thought one of the worst side effects was nausea? Don’t worry, I thought the same exact thing, but Ralph experienced little to no nausea throughout the duration of his treatment. And this is where I want to circle back to our perspective when interacting with a person who is sick. It’s so easy to assume that each person’s journey through cancer is similar, but Ralph proves that everyone is different, so it’s imperative not to make assumptions about something someone is going through.

Ralph and his sister, Lindsey, at the Museum of Modern Art.

 

If you’ve been on any of the Fairmont campuses this year, you may have noticed the new Fairmont Code posters. These posters are reminders for every person who walks through Fairmont’s halls to show kindness and respect to everyone they meet. Kindness isn’t just holding a door open for someone or saying good morning. Kindness is also showing respect and treating people, especially people who are sick, normally. To clarify, if a friend or loved one has a cold and you make them noodle soup, which is something you normally wouldn’t do, is not what I’m saying — you should still make them the noodle soup because you care about them, want them to get better, and feel the desire to aid them. What I am talking about is including people in normal, everyday activities. For example, while Ralph was going through his treatments, he was back in his hometown: New Jersey. Therefore, he had many friends there who he hadn’t seen in quite a while, and, of course, they wanted to visit him. Ralph’s friends wanted to play a friendly game of poker one evening but weren’t sure if he would feel up to it because, as anyone who’s ever played before knows, a game of poker can easily go into the wee hours of the morning. But Ralph wanted to be included. He wanted to spend a normal evening with his friends who he hadn’t seen in a while. If Ralph was simply visiting New Jersey and didn’t have cancer there wouldn’t have been a second thought on whether to invite him. That is what I mean when I say, “treat people normally.”

Ralph with his friend, Steph, at a concert in Philly.

Ralph’s advice to the loved ones of cancer patients is to not walk on eggshells around them, and I really think that we can learn a lot from that. Of course, I’m not saying you should ever be mean to someone, but what I am saying is that sick people are still just humans.

Speaking to Ralph about his experience as a cancer patient taught me so much about making what could be an uncomfortable situation normal. And if we stay true to the Fairmont Code by being respectful and kind to every person no matter what their circumstance, we may find that the world will become a better place.

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Shelby Wagner - 1st Grade Teacher Fairmont Historic AnaheimTop Teacher & Skating Champion
Shelby “My favorite part of being a teacher is the children I get to teach.”
  • Is one of the head teachers for the Fountain Valley Artistic Skating Club, teaching regional and national champions. She also teaches beginner classes every Saturday morning.
  • Every year, her students are amazed to find that their teacher has a life outside of the classroom.
“I love feeling like I’m part of a family [at Fairmont].”
Keira Kamath - 5th Grade Fairmont Anaheim HillsScience & Tennis Superstar
keira “I like how there are so many different specialty classes at Fairmont Anaheim Hills, like art, music, PE, science lab, computer lab, and Spanish.”
  • She would like to be a professional tennis player when she grows up, or maybe a doctor.
  • Loves dance and plays the piano
  • Her favorite class is science “because you get to figure out stuff, and I like to do experiments.”
Nicholas Aghaian - 7th Grade Fairmont Historic AnaheimKicking His Way to Med School
nicolas“The teachers and the amount of support they provide to not only me, but to the whole entire community here at Fairmont is probably what I like most about attending Fairmont Historic Anaheim.”
  • He would like to be a professional soccer player, or a doctor specializing in the field of sports medicine.
  • Enjoys basketball, piano, and soccer pitch.
  • His favorite subject is math “because I like to be challenged, and math is full of challenges.”
Gianluca De Gregoris – 2nd Grade Fairmont North TustinDancing Toward Greatness
dancing"What I like most about Fairmont is that I get to learn and meet new friends.”
  • He wants to be a professional dancer when he grows up.
  • Is trained in ballet and ballroom dancing.
  • Loves writing and creating new stories.
Nicole Heyman - Kindergarten Teacher Fairmont Anaheim HillsLaying a Foundation for Lifelong Learning
Nicole "The best part about teaching at Fairmont is being able to work with a diverse group of students who are all incredibly talented. It is amazing to be able to challenge students at such a young age and watch these children grow throughout the year.”
  • Loves camping, reading, and traveling
  • Her students love learning random things about her – like the fact that when she was in kindergarten she wanted to be Spiderman when she grew up.
  • Her proudest moments are the times when a student on campus is excited to see her, oftentimes telling her that she’s “the best teacher in the world.” “I live for those moments.”
“I choose to teach at Fairmont because of the sense of community, as well as the drive for our students to succeed.”
DJ Clovis - Music Teacher Fairmont North TustinRunning to the Rhythm
DJ Clovis “I get to work with amazing staff, faculty, parents, and most importantly, students!”
  • Teaches music to all grades — from pre-kindergarten through 8th grade
  • Coaches (or has coached) football, basketball, and Run Club
  • Plays bass trombone
  • NJHS Conflict Resolution Coach
  • He has run 15 marathons and 4 ultra marathons.
“The best part of teaching at Fairmont is the autonomy — being able to create a program that fits all of my students. At Fairmont North Tustin, I get to help with a lot of different activities.”