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'Alyssa's Angels' shine: Kent school rallies to support cancer-stricken girl
The well-travelled, often squeezed and frequently exchanged sock monkey is a reminder of a precious girl and her plight.
The monkey poses as a stand-in at school for Alyssa Zoll, a beloved, energetic and fun-loving fifth-grader at Kent Mountain View Academy, who is waging a spirited battle against Ewing's Sarcoma, a rare, aggressive form of bone cancer.
Alyssa loves monkeys, silly ones, all kinds. She also enjoys her many friends, classmates and teachers – all of whom hope she returns to school one day.
"Alyssa reminds us all of what we have to be thankful for and how to take care of each other," said Principal Stephanie Knipp. "Our (students) show they love her, they care and they are here for her."
In a genuine all-for-one gesture, the small school on West Hill has rallied behind Alyssa. Students, supported by staff and parents, came up with a school-wide campaign, "Alyssa's Angels, Sock it to Cancer," to help the 11-year-old girl and her family.
The campaign, launched weeks after Alyssa's diagnosis on Aug. 26, remains very active these days. The fifth-grade class began a fundraiser, selling $20 T-shirts and $30 hooded sweatshirts – emblazoned with the campaign's motto – with the proceeds helping to defray medical costs for the SeaTac family.
The school of 350 strong is unified, symbolic of students, teachers and staff wearing "Alyssa's Angels" shirts on Mondays.
"We're supporting her and showing you can beat cancer," said student Sia Moiwo.
"She is doing OK," said Alyssa's older brother, Jacob, a seventh-grader.
Alyssa continues the fight. She recently had surgery to remove a hip bone and about one-third of her left femur, which was replaced by a titanium rod. A tumor and surrounding tissue also were removed.
She is completing the last phase of 23 weeks of chemotherapy at Seattle Children's Hospital. In physical therapy, she is beginning to use a walker, applying pressure to strengthen the leg.
"She is doing pretty good right now," said Alyssa's mother, Michella, who took a leave of absence as a bookkeeper to care for her daughter. Her husband, Harold, continues to work full time. "It is a battle ... but at this moment, there is no cancer.
The prognosis is good, Michella said, adding "there's a 75-percent chance (the cancer) won't return in five years."
Through all the energy-sapping treatments, Alyssa maintains a smile and a sense of humor, unique for someone her age.
"She a goofball, a funny little kid," mom said.
"She's just a bright, shiny star," said Nancy Newby, a teacher who visits Alyssa three times a week to help her with her homework. "She blows my mind because with everything she's been through people might think she doesn't want to do any work, but she's ready to go."
Newby laughs as she describes one of her previous visits to the hospital. Alyssa, who just spent some time meeting a touring clown, later asked Newby if she wanted a delicious brownie.
"Why, sure," Newby replied.
Alyssa then carefully held out her concealed hand and gently placed a brown letter "E" in Newby's palm.
Alyssa then giggled.
"She's so positive, so silly," Newby said. "She's teaching everyone about courage and tenacity. She doesn't give up. She's a very loving, kind-hearted kid. She's remarkable and fierce."
Support from the school and the community has been humbling, touching for the Zolls.
"It's been absolutely overwhelming, all the people who have come forward," Michella said. "We definitely realize how blessed we are. Our community has blessed us. We have a coffee shop in our neighborhood that has done fundraisers for us.
"The school is constantly checking on Alyssa and seeing if she's OK. They send little notes on a weekly basis from school. Her friends do," she said.
"When we visit school, they are so overwhelmingly excited to see her. They bring her right in. They always have little presents for her. They've been amazing. Her classmates are just awesome."
Follow Alyssa's journey on Facebook at Alyssa's Angels or on Caring Bridge under Alyssazoll.
Notes of encouragement can be emailed to Alyssasangels@comcast.net. An account has been set up at BECU under Alyssa's Angels for donations to the family. You also can donate via PayPal to Alyssasangels@comcast.net.
T-shirts and hooded sweatshirts are available to the school. To inquire, visit the school's office at 22420 Military Road S. or call 253-373-7488 during regular school hours.
PHOTO BELOW: Kent Mountain View Academy students, from left, Sia Moiwo, Carly Gadzuk, Ethan Rogers, Morgan Rogers and Andi Hughes, with a sock monkey, are a big part of 'Alyssa's Angels'. Mark Klaas, Kent Reporter