With the pounding feet, loud music and energetically dancing students, if you walked into the Sutton Center knowing nothing of the event happening this past Saturday, you would’ve thought an electronic music festival had come to Wake Forest.
Last weekend, the 12th annual Wake ‘N Shake took place, bringing together over 1,400 students to dance for 12 hours with one common goal: to raise money to find a cure for cancer. The event this year consisted of morale dances, Zumba, body combat, a magician, performances from Momentum and Deacon Dhamaal, speeches from Coach Clawson, President Hatch and Take the Fight, a live band and a rave hour.
The most touching of all the activities were the times when everyone quieted down for the speakers, which included Jake Teitelbaum, a Wake Forest senior and founder of the Resilience Project who has battled cancer himself and each of the eight champions, who are people that have fought or are fighting cancer.
One champion was Cindy Ferguson, mother of sophomore Elizabeth Ferguson (Champion Relations Committee), who spoke about her ongoing battle with stage-two, triple negative breast cancer. She was diagnosed just two days before the event last year, and has been fighting ever since. She began with 16 rounds of chemotherapy in April of 2016 and will hopefully complete the last step, oral chemotherapy, this July.
This process has been difficult, yet inspiring for Elizabeth, who said the hardest part was being away at school when her mom was diagnosed and not being by her side during the final rounds of chemotherapy as she returned to school in the fall.
On Saturday, Elizabeth took to the stage as support while Cindy told her story. One aspect Cindy talked a lot about was her fear of losing her hair. With the new concept of cool-cap therapy, she was able to save most of it, but not without the help of her “cap angels.”
Every Wednesday, four friends would come to help Cindy as she received chemotherapy, changing the negative 32 Degrees Celsius caps every 30 minutes throughout the morning and afternoon. Her husband stayed by her side through it all.
Cindy eventually decided to buy a wig to wear during the day, but is still so thankful to have much of her hair left, saying it was at least one thing she felt like she could control. When she looks in the mirror, she still sees herself, and gives all thanks to God.
“The smallest or most random acts of kindest can be the most touching,” she said.
Another kind act came in the form of a paperchain created by Elizabeth, with each colorful link holding an inspirational quote. Although Elizabeth was back at school during her mom’s final weeks of chemotherapy, when Cindy opened a link each morning, it felt like Elizabeth was there with her. Even with her ongoing fight against cancer, she remains as positive and involved as she’s always been.
Another student who is very passionate about Wake ‘N Shake and has had cancer hit close to home is Kaela Griswold, a corporate sponsorship co-chair. This year, she put her heart and soul into her planning because she was doing it in honor of her Uncle Scott, former high school clasmates Chris Nunes and Bobby Taggart and former teacher and mentor Peter McVeigh.
Her uncle Scott passed last week from Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and she described him as the most knowledgeable man she knows. Even in the hospital, he was studying textbooks. During her high school years at Germantown Academy in PA, two boys, Nunes and Taggart, also passed away after battling cancer.
This “created silence, but also an uproar of community,” she said.
The community grew even closer this past semester when Peter McVeigh, a teacher at the school for 45 years, passed from pancreatic cancer at age 70 on Feb. 7. Griswold described him as her life mentor, source of guidance and inspiration, Poppy Pete and best friend.
“He is the dearest person in my life,” she said.
Their friendship began her sophomore year of high school when she decided to start “KBallet,” through which she taught dance at a local orphanage to kids who had been abused, neglected or orphaned.
McVeigh was the Director of the Community Service Organization and she needed advice; from there they formed a special bond that included many Saturdays helping others and ending the day with mint chocolate chip ice cream.
Two weeks before McVeigh passed, Griswold received a call from Peter’s son, Ian McVeigh, and was able to spend three days with the family in the hospital. Ian told Griswold, “I was his best friend, until he met you.”
After the passing of McVeigh, who was known for calling every student he had ever had on their birthday each year, both Griswold and the school were shaken. Students created a blog on their literary magazine’s website, Academy Monthly, where people who knew and loved him could write tributes, and the funeral was held at the school with over 1,000 people in attendance.
Wake Forest senior and Overall Co-chair Michael Hanamirian also attended Germantown Academy, and described McVeigh as “an unbelievable teacher and guy” who was “infectious” and “sacrificed always.”
“It’s important to remember those who aren’t here anymore, to keep fighting alongside those who are still fighting and to celebrate those who no longer have the disease,” he said.
Hanamirian also experienced the loss of Nunes and Taggart, two of his high school friends, and is supporting Wake Forest alum and Lambda Chi Alpha brother Fritts Biesecker in his current fight.
Germantown Academy’s website says McVeigh loved quoting the words of Martin Luther King, and often said, “Our lives begin to end on the day that we remain silent about the things that matter.”
This year students made some major noise, and the world is $334,337.52 closer to finding a cure for cancer.