Friend's life inspires Tigard student to find cancer cure
Twality Middle School sixth grader Calleigh Germer of Tigard was inspired by how her friend Holly Bruno led her life.
After all, it was Holly who, as a third grader at Deer Creek Elementary School, put up a courageous fight after discovering she had rhapdomysarcoma, a cancer of the soft tissue that begins in the muscles that are attached to bones and help the body move.
And it was Holly who told Calleigh and their core group of friends — Corinne, Chloey, Dylan and Avery — to embrace her motto, "Love is Everywhere."
"She lived by those words every day," Calleigh says of Holly. "And then just this last year, Holly passed away."
But the story doesn't end there.
Even before Holly died, Calleigh was determined to get involved by calling attention to cancer and how to help those battling the disease. She joined the Northwest Sarcoma Foundation and participated in a walk they held. She took a tour of the Children's Cancer Therapy Development Institute, a Beaverton nonprofit biotech lab dedicated to making childhood cancer survivable.
That's where she met Dr. Charles Keller, scientific director at the lab, and Cora Ricker, a lab researcher. Impressed with the work they were doing at the lab, Calleigh wanted to know more about the research that will help young people like Holly. She's been volunteering there whenever she can.
"(Cora) taught me a lot about what they were doing, and she helped me with my science fair project," says Calleigh, referring to a poster board project that explained what sarcoma is, its treatments and possible future treatments.
Ricker says Calleigh's ability to turn grief into something positive is admirable.
"Calleigh serves as an inspiration to me, as well as my fellow lab members, to keep pushing forward in finding better treatments for children with cancer," Ricker says. "I can't wait to see what the future holds for this bright, courageous young girl as a scientist."
Last summer, Keller invited Calleigh to join the lab, also known as cc-TDI, for a short course about the cancer research they do. She was the youngest person in attendance.
Keller says he's impressed with Calleigh's desire to learn all she can about cancer.
"Once or twice in a lifetime, one can be lucky enough to be part of the path for that special kind of person who glows from the inside, who has curiosity and tenacity, and who will make the world a better place," Keller says. "Young Calleigh is such a person."
Meanwhile, Calleigh's sixth grade teachers are impressed with her accomplishments as well.
Brad Montplaisir, one of Calleigh's teachers, says he finds Calleigh's drive inspiring.
"Clearly, you can see she's a very well-rounded individual," he says.
Calleigh's other teacher, Emily Dehn, agrees.
"I think she has an internal drive that keeps her heading down a lot of paths," Dehn says. "I think just the focus on the more complex research. … Clearly her life was changed by her interaction, experience and friendship with Holly that gave her a motivation or drive to change the world a little bit."
In her spare time, Calleigh plays soccer, including an indoor variation called futsal, and is a member of Twality's Synergy, the middle school dance team.
Before her interview for this story, Calleigh pointed out three important takeaways she wants everyone to be aware of. She wants people to know that Holly inspires her, along with her words: "Love is Everywhere." Also, she wants everyone to know that it's her amazing friends and family who help her out and that cc-TDI lab is her passion. Finally, she wants everyone to know that there is little research on childhood cancer going on, and that the work that is being done is underfunded.
Before Holly died, Calleigh promised she would somehow find a cure or support cancer research.
She's already planning to reach that goal.
"When I go to college, I want to be a biochemical engineer, and then I want to work at cc-TDI," she says.
Meanwhile, Calleigh and her friends have made sure Holly isn't forgotten.
Attached to the chainlink fence at Deer Creek Elementary is a permanent sign they attached: "Love is Everywhere."
Tigard's Amazing Kid
Name: Calleigh Germer
School: Twality Middle School
Why she is amazing: Observing the life and death of her best friend, Holly Bruno, Calleigh plans to research and find a cure for cancer.