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Seaford Elementary School fourth-grader Wes Pak was about to head to New York on Friday morning for his fourth round of cancer treatments.
Unknowingly, the entire school prepared to send him off in style with a Star Wars-themed event, filling the basketball court garbed in special Stormtrooper T-shirts and forming 'WES' on the court.
The school was also accompanied by some guests, including the Pak family, stormtroopers, a jawa and Kylo Ren, who was one of main characters from the most recent film.
“It’s very emotional for me. It’s overwhelming. I’m so happy he has a school that supports him,” Wes’ mother Krista Pak said. “At a time he needs friends the most, it’s really been great Seaford Elementary has been here for him.”
Called JediWes for his affection toward the legendary sci-fi film franchise, Wes was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma in 2011 and has a mutation, which causes the cancer to be chronic.
“I feel like it’s neverending,” Krista Pak said. “We’re in a fight constantly.”
The frequent trips for treatments and the days he has to miss when he is not feeling well from those treatments continue to add up. Wes has already missed 76 days this year, taking him away from school activities, birthday parties and other events regularly.
“He misses so much school and so many fun activities. He’s always so upset having to miss those things,” Seaford Principal Christina Head said.
Additionally, the family has lost a lot in the last five years, including jobs, health insurance and their home, having moved three times since Wes was diagnosed.
“We pretty much live out of a suitcase,” Krista Pak said.
Krista Pak said it is difficult finding a company willing to work with Wes’ schedule, which is often sporadic and frequent because of the nature of his illness.
Many in the community continue to help raise money for the family and participate in toy drives.
“I’ve been very touched by his family and story,” said Lauren Blanchard, whose son is in Wes’ class and helped organize Friday’s event. “I feel like it was time for Seaford to stand up, unite and support him – all of us uniting and showing Wes that we’re family, we’re behind him and we’re his troopers.”
Blanchard, herself diagnosed with chronic leukemia, started the nonprofit gotCUREage to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and Myeloproliferative Neoplasm Research Foundation.
Blanchard handprinted 500 T-shirts for the event at Thread Perfection in Yorktown. Her nonprofit is also having its second Must Dash for a Cure 5K race May 14 at York High School with proceeds going to the Pak family.
“You may feel like you’re alone, but everyone can stand behind you and come together,” Blanchard said.
The local chapter of the 501st Legion, which is an all-volunteer organization formed to bring together costume enthusiasts to promote interest in Star Wars, sent a team to help with the festivities Friday.
Krista Pak said the group continues to support Wes, even supplying him with his own costume and often attending events with him.
Wes said he was surprised when he all of his schoolmates cheering for him and he had a lot of fun.
“A lot of times people forget about you, old news after five years, so to see Seaford continue to be there for Wes is incredible,” Krista Pak said.