Angel 34

Angel 34

by Frederick Jerant

We all thrill to tales of spandex-clad superheroes who leap into action and stand up to any obstacle they encounter.

But the late Nicole Sheriff was a superhero who wore ordinary clothes, swung a mean hockey stick… and could have given those guys lessons in bravery and toughness.

Nicole was an athletic and energetic seventh-grader in 2002 – until her unexpected diagnosis of Ewing’s sarcoma, shortly after her 13th birthday.

It’s the second-most-common childhood bone cancer, but is still pretty rare, making up only 1% of all childhood cancers. It can occur at any age, but rarely past the age of 30. September marks Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

Nicole“Nicole spent the rest of the year undergoing chemotherapy and 17 radiation treatments,” recalls Doug Sheriff, Nicole’s father and the president of Angel 34, a national organization that fights childhood cancer and is dedicated to finding a cure. “In the fall of 2002, she received stem cell transplants at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). We knew it would be tough, especially after we found that the softball-sized tumor in her back had spread to her right arm, left ankle and right lung.”

Doctors estimated her chances for survival at a mere 30% – but the teen confidently announced that she’d be in that group. That feisty attitude helped her to beat expectations over and over. A four-week schedule of in-patient treatments? She was out in two, in time for Doug’s birthday. Another four-to-six weeks starting in November? Nicole made it home for Thanksgiving. No school until the end of ’03? Nicole was back in class that April.

And while most teens tend to be self-centered, Nicole set out to improve other people’s lives. 

For example, she had discovered that ICEE® frozen beverages helped lessen some side effects of radiation and chemo – relieving her sore mouth and queasy stomach; keeping her hydrated; and providing an energy boost. (No other type worked as well.)

She wanted to share that benefit with other cancer patients. By collaborating with her field hockey coach (and those of opposing teams), Nicole raised over $15,000 in just six weeks. That money paid for two ICEE machines; the first was installed at Lehigh Valley Hospital on her 15th birthday.

Nicole died three weeks later.

But her fight didn’t end there. When she was 14, Nicole set up Angel 34, a 501(c) (3) non-profit foundation with five goals: providing more ICEE machines; offering financial assistance to families of cancer patients; promoting pet therapy; establishing medical arts scholarships for graduating high school seniors; and funding cancer research.

Why “Angel 34?” Doug explained that Nicole often said, “We are all angels in disguise, with God-given talents to make a difference in the lives of others who are less fortunate.” And the number 34 appeared in their lives with startling regularity. She admired Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton and wore his number – 34 – on her team jersey. CHOP – where she stayed in room 34 – is on 34th St. in Philadelphia; a lunch bill in Cape May came to exactly $34.34, and the half-time basketball score on what would have been her big “senior night” was tied at – what else? – 34 to 34. A string of coincidences? Cosmic influence? You decide. 

In its first decade, Angel 34 provided $4.5 million in services and support for kids battling cancer and their families. And, unlike many other charities, no one on the staff or board of directors receives any compensation. Many hundreds of volunteers support the group’s programs for fund-raising and awareness. These are just a few of them:

•Child-specific fundraisers. “Many people don’t realize that 50% of families with cancer-stricken children go bankrupt because of it,” Doug explains. “That’s why this is so important. From these fundraisers, every penny goes to the family; Angel 34 gets nothing.”

•Supporting the Easter egg hunt, Christmas party, talent show and toy collection drive (Operation Gold Snowflake) run by the pediatric cancer clinic at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Muhlenberg

•Derek’s Camp Flip-Flop, a free four-day, three-night summertime getaway in Wildwood Crest, New Jersey, for children battling cancer and their families. It honors Derek Graffis, a beach-loving Liberty High School graduate who volunteered for Angel 34 and succumbed to leukemia in 2010.

•Camp Cocoon, a bereavement camp for children

•“Angel Warriors”, in which high school student-athletes “adopt” children (sometimes scholastic athletes themselves) and their families for autumn sports – taking them to games, practices, homecoming and
similar activities

•Off-site social events, such as ice cream parlor “chill nights,” daytime pool gatherings, and movie nights. “These are very helpful to families, because they’re informal sessions where they can have candid conversations with other people in their situation,” Doug says.

•Installation of additional ICEE machines in Houston, Harrisburg, Delaware, Missouri, New York and Connecticut – in all, nearly 20 nationwide.

•Partnerships with St. Baldrick’s Foundation, Lauren’s First and Goal, Dream Come True and similar groups

Over two dozen corporate sponsors, and more than 500 individual and business donors, underwrite these and other Angel 34 programs, but additional financial donations are welcome at any time.

“You can also help us by attending or volunteering at one of our events, becoming an advocate for the issue of childhood cancer, or hosting your own fundraiser,” Doug says. “Remember, every child deserves an angel – and whatever is done for a child with cancer, is done for the siblings and the rest of the family as well.”

For more information about Angel 34 (including its programs, events and funding), visit angel34.org, email [email protected]  or call 610.533.1923.  

A diagnosis of childhood cancer can seem overwhelming to patients and their families. Fortunately, there are numerous resources to help them cope. Rose Schenk, a social worker at LVH-Muhlenberg, suggests looking into these groups:

CureSearch for Children’s Cancer

The Pediatric Cancer Foundation

Coco Foundation

Cancer Support Community  – Greater Lehigh Valley

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

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