Western Slope teen passes away after fundraiser in her honor
BASALT — Anna Cunningham, a local teenager who had battled a rare form of childhood cancer for three years, died Thursday, one day after faculty and students at Basalt High School held a wildly successful fundraiser in her honor.
Cunningham, 16, died from Ewing sarcoma. BHS students were notified by Principal Peter Mueller.
“This is a tragic loss for her family, friends and our entire school community,” Mueller said in a statement that was read to students Friday morning. “Anna represented the very best qualities of Basalt High School students. She cared about doing well in school, but even more, she cared about the people in this school. Despite the pain associated with fighting cancer, she brought light and love into our classrooms, into these halls and to our most recent student dance.”
Mueller continued to say that Wednesday’s Basalt Bold & Bald event was a “remarkable testament to the love we have for Anna.”
The event was a fundraiser for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which provides grants for childhood cancer research. If $10,000 was raised in Basalt, it could be designated specifically for research into Ewing sarcoma. The event has raised more than $76,000 so far and contributions are still being accepted.
For Basalt Bold & Bald, around 80 students, teachers, administrators and community members got their heads shaved or hair cut short in honor of Anna. Volunteers included males and females, Anglos and Latinos in a close bonding experience. The “shavees” were on stage at the front of the commons room while a standing-room-only crowd of hundreds of students and community members packed the seats and aisles.
Anna’s friends and teachers talked about how she remained a “ray of sunshine” even after she was diagnosed with cancer. One family friend noted that she believed it was a “last selfless act” by Anna to hold on until Basalt Bold & Bald was held.
“Anna exemplified a gracious, fighting spirit who cared about succeeding in school and cared about others,” Mueller’s statement said. “In her honor, I hope that she continues to inspire all of us to be kind and gentle with one another as we work together to make the world a better place.”
It was a roller-coaster week of emotions at the school with the exaltation of holding such a successful fundraiser, then the sad news of Anna’s death. The school made professional grief counselors available at the library on Friday.
Details on a memorial service are pending.
Notes of condolence and support for the family are being collected at the high school. They can be dropped off or mailed to Basalt High School, 600 Southside Dr., Basalt, CO 81621.
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