MONROE, N.J. — During his three years as a student at the Monroe Township Middle School, Om Parikh was well-loved and popular. His teachers said there wasn’t a single kid who didn’t know him. And that love and popularity was evident at the Thompson Park here May 20, when nearly 1,500 people of all ages participated in a 1K and 5K walk and run in memory of the 13-year-old who lost his battle to brain cancer this February.
Wearing green T-shirts provided by Monroe Indians for Civic Action (MICA) and the Om Foundation, created by Om’s parents Ketul Parikh and Krupa Parikh, people from Monroe and beyond showed up despite predictions of rain and a thunderstorm. As people got ready for the 1K walk, the sun came out, symbolizing “Om smiling down upon the crowd,” the announcer noted.
Middle-schoolers and volunteers held placards of encouragement while cheering the sea of green created by the walkers and the runners throughout the course. Many were running for the first time. They celebrated their achievements while supporting pediatric cancer awareness and research, one of the foundation’s goals.
The parents told India Abroad that they were “overwhelmed” and “thankful” to the community for their outpouring of love and support for their son and their family. "We are so humbled," said Om’s father. He said the family was encouraged by the turnout, which surpassed expectations. They said they were encouraged for the foundation’s other initiatives.
“Along with creating awareness for pediatric cancer and to support research, the Om Foundation also encourages health initiatives, one of the main reasons for the 1K and 5K walk and run,” Ketul Parikh told India Abroad. He said more foundation activities are planned.
The event raised more than $61,000, out of which more than $40,000 will go to the foundation, he said. “We are looking to do good things with that.” Some of the initiatives include implementing cancer awareness programs within the school system in cooperation with sister foundations and organizations working on cancer research as well as providing support - financial or emotional - to families with a member diagnosed with cancer, Ketul Parikh said.
Teachers, friends and family members remembered Om as a popular, well-loved and bright kid. Many also spoke about the power of one - in this case Om Parikh - who galvanized the entire community to come out and support a social cause. Middle school teachers, Om’s classmates, and kids from other township schools, family friends and the community, all praised the family for turning a personal tragedy into a larger fight for cancer prevention and awareness.
In an emotional speech, Om’s sister Yashasvi Parikh, remembered her brother and his battle with the deadly and rare disease. She said that throughout the years he suffered, her brother always remained positive and was determined to fight the cancer, she told the crowd. As the Monroe High School senior spoke, many in the crowd were seen fighting back tears.
Om was 10 when he was first diagnosed with a rare brain tumor called oligodendroglioma. He had been complaining of severe headaches every day after coming home from school. After a combination of chemotherapy and proton radiation therapy at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, doctors believed his tumor apparently had gone. The family celebrated by taking Om’s “make-a-wish” trip to visit his grandfather’s home in India.
A few months later, Om’s tumor returned. He was treated after the second relapse and was doing well until he relapsed again on Sept. 6, 2017, his first day of 8th grade at the Monroe Township Middle School. He was then placed on an immunotherapy drug. Nearly four months later, however, on Feb. 7 of this year, Om Parikh died.