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Checkmate Cancer in HdG on Saturday

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Harford County residents are being asked to support two worthy fundraisers to benefit two families of sick children.

The fundraisers are to benefit the family of a 9-year-old boy, who's been battling cancer, and the other to benefit the family whose 4 1/2-year-old son died a few weeks ago.

Saturday's Checkmate Cancer chess tournament will not only serve as a fundraiser for the Saacks family, but also will celebrate Thomas Saacks being in remission from liver cancer. It begins at 9 a.m. Saturday. Visit http://www.checkmatecancer.com, or the "Checkmate Cancer" community on Facebook for more information.

Sunday's Walk for Bear at Jerusalem Mill in Joppa will benefit the family of Jacob "Bear" Brzozowski, who died April 16 from a swelling in his brain. It's still unclear what caused it. The walk and tribute is from 10 a.m. to noon. Visit http://www.bearlegacy.net for more information.

Avid chess player

Thomas' mother, Sara Saacks, of Havre de Grace, said her family learned May 9 that Thomas, who is in third grade Meadowvale Elementary School, is in remission.

He was diagnosed with cancer after a rhabdoid tumor was found on his liver on Dec. 5, 2012, seven days before his 9th birthday. Thomas – who has been a member of Meadowvale's chess club for several years – endured surgery to remove the entire tumor, along with his gallbladder and part of his liver, his mother said.

The surgery was followed by six 21-day cycles of chemotherapy. All treatment was through Johns Hopkins' Pediatric Oncology division in Baltimore.

Saacks the experience was "very stressful."

"[It was] very stressful and just very hard on him," she said of her son. "The treatments were hard on him . . . but we are celebrating now that it's gone."

Saacks said Thomas joined the chess club while looking for an after-school activity, and blossomed into a player under the tutelage of Joe Schatz, a Meadowvale parent, who also lives in Havre de Grace, and heads up the club at the elementary school and at Havre de Grace Middle School.

Schatz is among the members of the Havre de Grace community organizing Saturday's Checkmate Cancer tournament, which will be held in Saint Patrick Hall at 650 Pennington Ave. in Havre de Grace.

He worked with the Church of Saint Patrick – which operates the hall, and where the Saacks are parishioners – the Emmorton Rec Council, many local businesses and more to put the event on to raise funds to help the Saacks family defray medical costs.

Many businesses have donated gifts to be given out as prizes.

Schatz said the Meadowvale club typically holds a tournament at the end of the year.

"We thought, 'Why not make that tournament bigger and have it as just a benefit for Thomas and his family?'" he said.

Schatz said 45 players have pre-registered and the tournament is set up to accommodate 100 to 120 players. Pre-registration is closed, but interested players can register between 8 and 8:45 a.m. Saturday.

For $10, players can take part in four rounds in a "Swiss System"-style tournament.

Saacks said Thomas has returned to school and will be playing in Saturday's tournament, along with his father, Nick. She and Thomas' 6-year-old sister, Rachel, will be spectators.

She said her son was able to continue to play chess while in treatment, by using the SocialChess app for the iPad.

Saacks said the electronic chess "helped him be connected to" friends and classmates.

"It was a great way for him to still have that interaction," she said.

Saacks said her son's teacher was "relentless in ensuring Thomas stayed connected to his classmates and school."

"The teacher, assistant principal and principal, the school and entire system (HCPS) have gone above and beyond requirements and even expectations to not only support Thomas, but also to keep him connected to the classroom academically and socially," she wrote in an e-mail.

Mountain of bills

"Bear," who attended pre-school at the Bel Air Athletic Club, suffered from unexpected seizures and was in the University of Maryland Medical Center for 10 days before he died. During his stay, he underwent a litany of tests to determine the cause of the swelling, but as of earlier this week, none had been found.

His parents, Patrick and Stacy Brzozowski, have a mountain of bills, including funeral bills, and Sunday's walk is not only a fundraiser for the family, but also a way to pay to tribute to a 4-year-old who touched many lives, one of the organizers said.

"We wanted to do a walk as a fundraiser for Bear to celebrate his love of the outdoors. Stacy and their family embrace living life to the fullest. Bear touched so many lives and he had such a sparkle and contagious energy. Bear deserves to be remembered and celebrated in a way that brings families and nature together. We hope that everyone joins us on Sunday to help show our and support for the family," Cathy Frattali, whose son went to pre-school with Bear, said.

Tickets for Sunday's fundraiser will be sold at the entrance to Jerusalem Mill; they are $20 per person, $30 per couple and $40 per family. Door prizes will also be awarded and friends and family are encouraged to pack a lunch to have a picnic in the park in memory of Bear.

For advance ticket sales, contact Frattali, 41-0707-5878 or cfrattali@verizon.net.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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