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Inspired by her mother’s cancer treatments and the other women met at the hospital, Gianna Kasynak organized a fundraiser to benefit Yale’s Breast Cancer Awareness floor. (Photo courtesy of Gianna Kasynak )
Over the past few years, Gianna Kasynak's family has faced a number of health challenges. Her father needed neck surgery to avoid paralysis and her mother was treated for breast cancer for two years. She also remembers seeing her grandparents ill before they passed away, when she was young.
Instead of becoming discouraged, the challenges inspired Gianna to do what she could to help. She has always wanted to be a nurse and spent time volunteering at Yale, prior to COVID.
"Everybody in my life was always sick and when my grandparents passed away, I remember as a child not being able to do anything, so I always wanted to be a nurse," says Gianna, who also loves watching Grey's Anatomy. "When my parents both got sick, it really took a toll."
Gianna helped care for her mother and often accompanied her to the hospital. There, Gianna met many other women who were also battling cancer. She and her mother often had conversations with the other women.
Because of those relationships and Gianna's experience seeing her mom's battle, she decided to host a fundraiser for Yale's Breast Cancer Awareness floor this past October in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
"A lot of the ladies didn't have a family or couldn't afford things they needed and my heart broke. I had so much empathy for these ladies," says Gianna. "I wanted to do a fundraiser that would be dedicated to them for help with their hospital bills, get wigs, or other expenses. The conversations with the ladies on that floor really opened my eyes that there are so many people who have things worse than you."
While organizing a fundraising walk is challenging during regular times, COVID added even more challenges when it came to ensuring the safety of the volunteers and participants. Gianna worked with her Health Occupations Students of America classmates and teacher, with Gianna taking on the role of chair of the event.
As the event chair, Gianna organized the logistics of the walk. With the track at the high school still under construction and sports teams using the fields, Gianna and the group created a one-way walking loop around the high school. In addition to regular organizing duties such as designating volunteers to different areas, registering walkers, and collecting donations, Gianna also secured appropriate personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer, which East Haven High School provided.
Despite it being a rainy day, about 80 people turned out to walk in the fundraiser and Gianna raised more than $600 for the cause.
She is thankful to her coworkers at Longhorn Steakhouse for supporting her and donating to the cause. Gianna also had help from her friends, including Jess Faulker, who helped Gianna sell awareness ribbons at school, and Krystal Luna, who created a flyer that Gianna posted in businesses throughout town.
"The community was so supportive and really came together," says Gianna. "My mom loved it and came to support me and my aunt was very helpful, too. I was so happy and loved seeing it come together."
Gianna started her high school career at Platt Tech in Milford, but when her mom got sick, she wanted to have more time at home and transferred to East Haven High School. She is grateful that she did, as she is already making headway toward her goal of becoming a nurse.
East Haven High School offers a certified nurses assistant (CNA) program. When Gianna was a sophomore, she started with a health science technology class, followed by a CPR and first aid class her junior year. At the end of last year, she applied for the CNA program and got in.
Now, part of Gianna's school days are spent learning skills such as taking vitals, respirations, and blood pressure. The program looks a little different this year with social distancing and masks, but Gianna is enjoying the experience.
"Basically you learn to do the same things as a nurse, without any of the medication," says Gianna, who is hoping to get into Salve Regina University and would love to study abroad during college. "The fact that we have this program is amazing because a lot of schools don't have the opportunity to work toward future career goals."
This isn't the first time Gianna is exploring the medical world as she volunteered at Yale for four years. Though the volunteer work is now put on hold due to COVID, Gianna enjoyed seeing the nurses and doctors working firsthand and doing what she could to help. Despite not being able to be in the hospital to volunteer, Gianna is happy she was able to find a way to give back through organizing the walk.
"I love volunteering, but I can't do much now because of COVID so I feel grateful to have had a chance to make someone's life a little better," says Gianna, who also enjoys spending time with her family and her dogs and drawing. "With the donation, I hope there is a bill that can be taken care of, a wig bought, or even food for their family. I just hope it will make somebody's day."
Jenn McCulloch is the Correspondent for Zip06. Email Jenn at .