Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze Woonsocket North Smithfield 06-07-2018

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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NORTH SMITHFIELD BLACKSTONE WOONSOCKET EDITION | VALLEY BREEZE | JUNE 7-13, 2018 NORTH SMITHFIELD 7 Community honors the life of Anna Kitada NORTH SMITHFIELD – It was with great sadness and an eye toward celebrating the life of a cher- ished young woman that the North Smithfield community gathered at North Smithfield Middle School last Wednesday to remember Anna Kitada, a 7th-grader who succombed to a long fight with bone cancer on May 26. Anna was getting ready to enter 4th grade at Halliwell Elementary School in 2014 when she was first diagnosed with osteosarcoma that had metastasized to her lungs. The years that followed included surgery, chemotherapy and many months in and out of the hospital. But she did not fight her battle alone. In addition to her mother, Claudia Huntley, and younger sister, Kate, who remained by her side, she received support from members of her community, who rallied to support their friend emotionally and financially during the difficult time. On May 30, community members gathered at the middle school for a spa and game night to support the family's medical expenses hosted by Anna's Hedgehog Heroes, a group founded by Anna's friends, and Kenny's Coalition, an organiza- tion that was first formed to support Anna's family but has since sup- ported several other local families with medical expenses, according to organizer April Lombardi. "Everybody knows all of these kids. So it's heartbreaking, but to see the way that this town comes togeth- er, it takes my breath away every time," she said. While the event had been planned for some time, it became an oppor- tunity for close friends and family to share their stories of Anna as they came together to celebrate her life. Friends and other community members remembered Anna as an upbeat, creative girl who loved Harry Potter, Disney and art and was known around school for her colorful accessories. "She was always very happy," said Abby Tremblay, a close friend who recalled meeting Anna during kin- dergarten orientation at the North Smithfield Public Library. "Always smiling. She never looked sad about anything that was going on." Erin Scott, a parent whose daugh- ter, Elaina, was a close friend, point- ed out that while Anna battled can- cer for several years, to her friends, she was simply Anna, a preteen who loved texting and getting together to watch movies. "It's like a normal friendship. Anna just happened to be bald and have cancer," she said. "Cancer was just part of her journey. It did not define who Anna was." Jennifer Daigneault, the principal at Halliwell Elementary School, recalled Anna's happy attitude and refusal to allow cancer to keep her from embracing her school experi- ence. Daigneault said the past several years have been difficult for students and families as several children in the North Smithfield community have been diagnosed with serious illnesses. In 2012, another North Smithfield student, Evan Mandeville, died at the age of 11 from diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, a rare brain tumor. Since then, several other families have received cancer diag- noses, with three of the students at Daigneault's school recently finishing treatment. "I think it's been tough. I think we've had our series of kiddos with cancer, so I think having one of our kiddos not win the battle has been really challenging," she said. Following the fundraiser, families made their way out to the school's turf field for a tribute to Anna. Physical education teacher Cristina Lima led the event that included sev- eral of Anna's favorite songs selected by her family and friends. Among those who shared memo- ries was Anne Powers, whose daugh- ter, Julia, was also diagnosed with osteosarcoma. The two families met while receiving treatment at Hasbro Children's Hospital. "We met Anna at Hasbro when Julia was there and she somehow managed to make Hasbro fun. We saw her shooting saline syringes at nurses often," said Powers, to laugh- ter from the crowd. As night descended on the field after a brilliant pink sunset, the crowd joined in with a bubble tribute as several of Anna's closest friends along with her sister, Kate, released white dove balloons in her memory. Earlier in the evening, the communi- ty sang along to "How Far I'll Go," a song from the Disney film "Moana" that Anna's friends said reminded them of her. Like other songs played during the tribute, it called to mind a strong young woman who was loved by her family and celebrated by a community whose lives she touched. "To be able to pay tribute to a young lady who really did impact a lot of people, even people who didn't know her – she truly was always smiling, she truly was happy all the time, she was able to go to school and people really admired that," said Lombardi. "It's been a road, for sure," she added. By LAUREN CLEM Valley Breeze Staff Writer lauren@valleybreeze.com BREEZE PHOTOS BY LAUREN CLEM Several of Anna Kitada's close friends, led by her sister, KATE KITADA, at left, release white dove balloons in memory of their friend dur- ing a tribute at North Smithfield Middle School May 30. The North Smithfield student passed away after a long fight with bone cancer on May 26.

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