Josephine Schiavo & Christina Moore

Josephine Schiavo

After her Aunt Jo was diagnosed with sarcoma, Christina Moore did a beautiful thing.

As Miss Brooklyn 2011, Christina raised almost $15,000 for the Sarcoma Alliance to honor her aunt, Josephine Schiavo. Neither had heard of sarcoma before Josephine was diagnosed. By the end of the year, a thousand people had learned about sarcoma through the pageant, fundraisers, newspaper articles, a blog, YouTube, dance clinics and plain old word-of-mouth.

Christina isn’t done yet. She will host Casper’s Cure 7-11 p.m. Saturday at Sirico’s, 13th Avenue and 81st Street, in Brooklyn. The cost is $75 per person and includes wine and beer, dinner, dancing and lots of exciting baskets and raffles. Children under 10 are $40.  Please wear orange, black, purple or white. If you would like a formal invitation,  email christina.moore@wagner.edu.

“Aunt Jo is my No. 1 inspiration. She’s so full of life,” she says. Josephine returns the compliment: “She’s growing into such an amazing woman. I’m in awe of her.”

The two women are bound by love, not blood. Christina is the daughter of Josephine’s best friend. Josephine has two sons, and the Brooklyn families have been close for years. Josephine’s illness brought them closer.

Her symptoms started with head pain in September 2006. Doctors did tests and treated her for migraines, but the pain continued. She told the audience at Cupid’s Cure, her first fundraiser for the Sarcoma Alliance: “If the doctors say you’re OK, there’s nothing wrong with you, be persistent and say, ‘I know my body, and something may be wrong.’ ”

In April 2007, she hit her head but the bump she felt didn’t go away. An X-ray in May showed a mass, and in July she had surgery. She was diagnosed with malignant fibrous histiocytoma (MFH), which was later updated to undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcoma (UPS). Both the old and the new terms refer to soft-tissue sarcomas that can’t be classified otherwise. The head is an unusual place for sarcoma to start.

By November, CT scans showed many small spots in her lungs and liver. A lung biopsy confirmed that the sarcoma had spread. The day after Christmas 2007, she started a chemo cocktail called AIM for Adriamycin (doxorubicin), Ifex (ifosfamide) and mesna.

“I got chemotherapy for eight months, and I was in and out of the hospital quite a number of times.” Josephine stopped chemo, and by July 2008, scans showed some metastases gone and others stable. The mets have stayed stable. Her doctor said she was the first patient he had treated with UPS that responded so well to chemotherapy.

Josephine found little information on sarcoma until she came across the Sarcoma Alliance website and its chat room. “It was my go-to site for sarcoma information.”

Meanwhile, someone suggested Christina enter the Miss Brooklyn Scholarship Pageant after seeing her dance. When she discovered that she could benefit a worthy cause, she turned to Josephine, who suggested the Sarcoma Alliance.

“I received a phone call that she came in fourth but with a spirit not diminished. She still hoped to help us in the future,” says Arthur Beckert, executive director of the Alliance. “In 2011, she entered the contest again, and I received an excited call that she had won!”

Christina was crowned Oct. 9, 2010. By Feb. 12, 2011, she had organized the Valentine’s fundraiser called Cupid’s Cure. While fighting back tears, Christina turned to Josephine and said: “Aunt Jo, you threw the rule book out the window. You beat every odd, every statistic.”

“The event in Brooklyn, one of the boroughs of New York City, brought together more than 200 people to honor Josephine and support the Sarcoma Alliance,” wrote Arthur, who flew from his home in California to attend. Balloons and sunflowers decorated the tables. There was dinner, dancing and a raffle.

“Aunt Jo and I knew that if we were going to coordinate a fundraiser, it wasn’t going to be your typical ‘fundraiser,’ but instead a true celebration of life,” Christina wrote on her blog.

“We were there, not to be saddened by Josephine’s struggle, but rather empowered and inspired by her tremendous fight. Her positive attitude and outlook on life is one to be admired by all, for it is the reason she is with us today. Her zest for life, loud voice and contagious personality is unbelievable and I wanted that to be able to shine the most the night of the event!

“What I’ve been doing this year is take two things I love and fused them together: Aunt Jo and dance.”

Christina has danced since she was a child, with a special love for jazz dance. She graduated from Wagner College in Staten Island with a bachelor’s degree in arts administration and a minor in dance. In 2006, she returned to Brooklyn’s Christa McAuliffe I.S. 187, which has 6th through 8th grade, to be the drama club choreographer.

As Miss Brooklyn, she adopted the platform: “Performers with a Purpose: Bringing Sarcoma Awareness Center Stage.” She traveled to McAuliffe and two other Brooklyn public schools once a week to teach dance clinics – and the idea that the arts can be used to help others. One sixth-grade boy told her: “I’m doing this because a year ago my Grandpa died of sarcoma, and I want to get the word out.”

“When one person opens up, others feel free to tell their story, too,” Christina said.

On May 7, 2011, 500 people came to watch 180 dancers, including Christina’s students, of course. “I truly love these kids. The feeling I get teaching them and seeing them shine on that stage and in life is a reward I simply cannot put into words.”

Christina hosted another fundraiser June 4 at Adventurer’s Park Family Entertainment Center in Brooklyn. The Sarcoma Alliance got a portion of ticket sales, and she and her crew sold baskets, held a raffle and put on a variety show in which she and her students performed. “It turned out to be a really nice family fun day.”

2011 was stressful, she acknowledged. “But hands down it was the best year of my life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It brought my friends and family together in so many ways.”

“Life is too short to sit back and let things happen,” Christina says. “You have to take charge and MAKE things happen.”
——————-
Click here to watch a video of Cupid’s Cure, and here and here for Performers with a Purpose.