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Brookfield Central students raise money, awareness for peer with brain cancer

Brookfield Central High School junior Raga Komandur, 16, makes a face at her friends as Kambrie Eagleboy (rear) cuts her hair in the school. Raga was taking part in the Buzz-A-Thon to support fellow student Andrew Wernicke.

Brookfield Central High School junior Raga Komandur, 16, makes a face at her friends as Kambrie Eagleboy (rear) cuts her hair in the school. Raga was taking part in the Buzz-A-Thon to support fellow student Andrew Wernicke. Photo By Peter Zuzga

Dec. 10, 2013

To show support for a fellow classmate diagnosed with brain cancer a second time, Brookfield Central High School students lined up Tuesday for a Buzz-A-Thon fundraiser.

Freshman Andrew Wernicke, 15, was diagnosed with brain cancer in May of 2010. He underwent surgery, two months of radiation and six months of chemotherapy and was cancer-free for more than two years, but an MRI this August indicated the cancer had returned.

"As a parent, this is the worst nightmare you have," said Dean Wernicke, Andrew's father. "It's a constant, underlying fear."

Andrew recently underwent another surgery to remove the tumor that recurred in his brain stem and will have several more months of chemotherapy; but community support has helped keep his spirits up, Dean Wernicke said.

"The school has helped because his friends are very supportive...and the school itself has done everything they can to make it easier for him," Dean Wernicke said. "For him, having a positive attitude is vital."

Among friends

In order to raise awareness, Brookfield Central held a Buzz-A-Thon For Cancer fundraiser during Tuesday's lunch periods and halftime at the girls' varsity basketball game.

"We wanted to promote awareness for childhood cancer and remind Andrew that he isn't alone," Brookfield Central Principal Brett Gruetzmacher said. "I think it helps to know that there's community support for him."

When the high school reached out to local businesses, several stepped up with donations.

Charlie's East Coast Hair Designs offered to cut students' hair for free, even offering students who could not attend the Buzz-A-Thon vouchers for future haircuts.

Charlie Bianco, who owns the salon, knew Andrew since his first battle with cancer.

"It was a pure coincidence when the school approached us," Bianco said. "We actually did a Cut-A-Thon fundraiser at his home four years ago and shaved people's hair in the driveway. We thought (Andrew's cancer) was over, but unfortunately, it came back."

Although the haircuts were free, the salon did accept donations for its services.

"I'm so happy that I could do this again, so that I could be there for Andrew's family," Bianco said. "At least we can help and alleviate some of the family's financial burdens."

In addition to donations, students could also buy "BC Strong" hats for $10 to go toward the cause. The hats were produced by local business SalesSmith, who gave the hats to the school at cost.

Proceeds from the Buzz-A-Thon, which was organized by the school's Key Club, will go to the Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer Fund.

"We see the purpose of this event as threefold: to show our support for Andrew as he undergoes the latest round of chemo; to raise awareness of Andrew's condition and the ability for cancer to strike children; and to raise funds to help battle childhood cancer," Key Club advisor Ronn Blaha said. "It is a small thing we can do to help make an impact."

But for Andrew's family, the event was greater than a small thing.

"This is amazing," Dean Wernicke said. "It's wonderful for Andrew to have this kind of support. It's important that...the event makes people more aware of childhood cancer and encourages others to help maybe just one other person."

Not alone

Between him and his older sister, Paige, the siblings have a significant amount of support from their friends at the high school, Dean Wernicke said.

But some students, who did not know Andrew personally, also wanted to donate to his cause.

Junior Karin Jorgensen, 17, donated 10 inches of her hair at the event to be used for Locks of Love, a nonprofit organization that uses donated hair to produce hairpieces for children suffering from medical hair loss due to any diagnosis.

As Jorgensen timidly waved the long lock of hair before her friends, it was clear that her sacrifice was not easy.

"I've done Locks of Love before...but it's really different doing it in school," said Jorgensen, slightly embarrassed to be on exhibit before her friends.

Although she did not know Andrew, she wanted to donate hair to Locks of Love for her fourth time, because "I've had a family member who had cancer before," she said.

For information about the fundraiser, contact Brookfield Central High School at (262) 785-3910.

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