February 1, 2007
I never thought my life would change during my freshmen year. I was in study hall when this tiny, skinny girl came in, pushed in a wheelchair. She hopped out of the chair and sat at the desk right next to mine.
"Hi, my name is Fred; what's your name?" I introduced myself with a smile. I always try to be friendly.
"My name is Shiri; nice to meet you Fred." She had a kooky high voice, and pretty eyes with a mixture of green and gray. We started talking, and within minutes we had plans to see a movie.
Before the movie, Shiri told me everything about her life. She had osteosarcoma, which is bone cancer. She had been sick since she was 11. Not only that, her mother had died of a heart attack not long after her diagnosis. While she was talking, I was speechless. I told her I was really sorry, and if she ever needed anything, I would be there. She thanked me.
I started wheeling her between classes, and soon we became best friends. Many people told me I was doing a great thing in being friends with Shiri, and I always told them that it wasn't community service, and even if it was, she should be getting the hours for tolerating my lame jokes.
Later that fall, when Shiri was hospitalized for chemotherapy, I visited her frequently. She spent most of December in the hospital. I spent every holiday with her, including Chanukah. Each holiday we would stay up, exchange presents, watch TV and take photos.
She soon came out of the hospital, but she wasn't well. The tumor in her knee was shrunken, but the tumors in her lungs and pelvis were growing. Her family didn't tell her about the growing tumors because they didn't want her to worry.
The hospital also found out that there were 12 tumors in her lungs. It was harder to have hope, but I always thought that the new medicine might help.
Soon Shiri seemed to get worse. Sometimes she was really hazy from the medication, and didn't know who everyone was. The most conversation she could manage was "Hi." Heartbreaking isn't even a word to describe how painful it was to see my best friend like this.
One day last August the doctor said that she only had 48 hours left. The next morning I was told that Shiri had died during the night. I didn't believe it. I walked back home, and when I got home I couldn't stop crying. The thing that was so devastating was that I never got to say goodbye to her.
Within a week, the funeral was held at Forest Lawn in Glendale. As I looked at the photos of Shiri set up near the podium and listened to the slow, peaceful sounds of the harp player nearby, it suddenly hit me that Shiri wasn't here anymore. I felt really empty, like I was dead too.
After we all were seated, the rabbi went up to the podium and said, "Our first speaker will be Fred Scarf."
When I approached the podium, I looked out at the sad people dressed in black.
Some were actually sobbing. It was hard to explain how I was feeling, but I knew I didn't ever want to feel this way again. I knew I had to do something.
In honor of Shiri, I have started the Shiri Foundation, which is dedicated to raising money and awareness to support research for the cancer that killed her. Osteosarcoma is a rare disease, affecting fewer than 1,000 children per year.
Because it receives very little funding, it is known as an "orphan disease." I have never shied away from a challenge and never faced one more important. The Shiri Foundation is a nonprofit that demonstrates a drive and ambition to find a cure for osteosarcoma. Our goal is to raise $60,000 before Dec. 1, 2007.
We recently started selling shirts that say "I'm fighting bone cancer by wearing this shirt." One hundred percent of the proceeds from donations and T-shirts goes directly to research to find a cure for osteosarcoma. We have sold and given away more than 1,000 T-shirts across the nation and high schools throughout Southern California have requested donation boxes for the Shiri Foundation. The foundation also has a MySpace account to educate youth and provide a forum for discussion.
The Foundation and its mission are my passion. Words could never describe the pain that Shiri and her loved ones suffered. My dream is to prevent others from suffering that kind of pain.
Frederick Scarf is a junior at Birmingham Senior High School in Lake Balboa. You can visit The Shiri Foundation at www.shiri.org; the myspace page can be found at www.myspace.com/shirifoundation.
Tribe, by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the March issue is Feb. 15; Deadline for the April issue is March 15. Send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
JewishJournal.com is produced by TRIBE Media Corp., a non-profit media company whose mission is to inform, connect and enlighten community