To anyone who does not know him, 14-year-old Zachary Kerns would not stand out against any of his peers.
The Lansdowne High School sophomore is tall with brown hair and brown eyes, is a member of the Historic Elkridge Young Marines and the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps and enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, 14-year-old Shayni Carbaugh.
But on Sept. 10, 2013, Zach celebrated the 1-year anniversary of being diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system.
The diagnosis was devastating for Zach and his Baltimore Highlands family. His father died from cancer on Feb. 25, 2011, and less than two months later, his grandfather also died from cancer on April 1.
"In the summer [of 2012] he was lazy, that's what we thought," said his mother, Candi Nalley. "When we went to the beach, he would just sleep in the chair.
"Then we went to when he'd start getting random fevers," she said.
"He kept telling us he had cancer," said Teddy Nalley, Zach's stepfather. "So I'm thinking he intensely doesn't feel good because he's just bummed ... because he lost his grandfather, lost his father, and then he does have cancer."
After more than three weeks in the hospital, after multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Zach was told he was in remission in October 2012. After almost a year without any treatment, Zach received a clean bill of health at the end of August.
Now, with his health on his side, Zach and his family are in the process of trying to set up multiple fundraisers to give back to the organization that helped them through his illness, the Casey Cares Foundation.
"He went through the surgeries, had his treatment, and through all that process we got introduced to Casey Cares," Teddy Nalley said.
The foundation, founded by Casey Baynes in 2000, organizes events and outings for families with critically ill children. Zach and his family participated in events, including a University of Maryland basketball game and a Miranda Lambert concert while he was ill.
Casey Cares families attend events free of charge.
"We did something every week," he said. "So it was nice to be able to go somewhere outside this house."
In order to show their appreciation for Casey Cares, the family is setting up a foundation in Zach's name to raise money for a lump sum donation. Zach will host fundraisers with Young Marines and Candi Nalley said she will sell Party Light candles to add to that fund.
"I wanted to give back," Zach said of Casey Cares. "They gave us a lot of stuff that we could have never afforded."
"I think the unique part of Zach and his family is that they've chosen to give back," said Casey Baynes, founder and executive director of Casey Cares. "Their family always stood out as far as being so sweet, always had a smile on their faces no matter how sick [Zach was] or what hard times they were going through."
Baynes, who noted that the family volunteered at a 5K race sponsored by Casey Cares at Camden Yards in August, said she is thankful to hear they will raise funds for the foundation — though she said she doesn't know what they plan.
"They've volunteered so far in our program," she said. "But now they're talking about doing this fundraiser.
"They're doing all this fundraising without our help, which is huge to us because it doesn't take any strain on our office," Baynes said.
Candi Nalley asked that, while they organize a foundation in Zach's name, people donate tickets, gift cards or clothing to Casey Cares in Zach's name. To get involved, write or send donations to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.youcaring.com/nonprofits/zach-gives-back-to-casey-cares-88281.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun