IF YOU GO
Holly Heikkinen fundraiser
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Bernard-Daniels' Lumber parking lot, 250 Railroad St., Canfield.
Activities: Trash-and-treasure and bake sales, bike raffle, silent auction.
Donations needed: Clothing, sports equipment, books, DVDs, toys and games.
Refreshments: Lemonade, hot dogs, pop for purchase.
More information: Call Dr. Becky Heikkinen at 330-881-6667 or Nicole Vlajkovich at 330-204-8106
By CHRISTINE DARIN
When Holly Heikkinen found a lump on her breast while nursing her youngest child last winter, she knew she was in for a battle.
The early-intervention specialist at Fairhaven School in Niles is no stranger to tough battles, however.
The 1998 Canfield High School graduate attended the University of Mount Union, and she was a standout volleyball and basketball player at each school.
Heikkinen, 31, said her parents always taught a good work ethic that pushed her to do well in sports.
Nicole Vlajkovich was five years younger than Heikkinen in high school, but she remembers the varsity coach telling seventh-grade summer basketball camp students to watch Heikkinen because she was so tough and such a good role model.
“She didn’t realize the impact she had on me,” Vlajkovich said.
Heikkinen’s family — her husband, Matthew; daughters, Hannah, 7, and Becca, 18 months; and son, Graham, 5 — relies on her teaching salary, and now they are faced with looming medical expenses due to her cancer.
Dr. Becky Heikkinen, her mother-in-law, and Vlajkovich, are hosting the “Benefit for Holly” from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at Bernard-Daniels Lumber Co. parking lot, 250 Railroad St.
The event will feature a trash-and-treasure sale, a bike raffle, bake sale and a silent auction with gift baskets. Refreshments will be for sale, including water, lemonade, soda and hot dogs.
“One thing that is special about our school district is that we help our own,” Vlajkovich said. “It’s a tribute to her and a Canfield tradition.”
Doctors diagnosed Heikkinen with stage-two breast cancer in January. In February, Heikkinen began chemotherapy treatments lasting up to five hours each.
The sessions weakened her immune system, causing her to contract an infection that resulted in a three-day hospital stay.
Throughout the sessions, which ended June 3, she spent many days feeling nauseous.
Now, facing surgery, Heikkinen is focused on the impact her disease is having on her three young children.
“I keep my life as normal as possible for the sake of my children,” she said, often assuring them that while she would become very sick, she would get better after visiting the hospital.
On Thursday, Heikkinen will undergo bilateral mastectomy followed by radiation treatments for six weeks.
In addition to teaching full time and raising her children, Heikkinen’s treatments took her to Magee-Women’s Hospital at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center as well as local facilities for appointments, which sometimes required taking unpaid sick leave from work.
Heikkinen said she recently gave advice to a co-worker, who has a friend with cancer. She said to stay positive because battling cancer is a tough, depressing journey.
“If I didn’t laugh and stay positive, I would probably cry,” Heikkinen said.
Mary Jean Polkovitch, a Canfield High School teacher, said she’d like to see as many people as possible to come to the Sunday benefit.
“The thing that impressed me most about Holly was that she is so hardworking,” said Polkovitch, who taught Heikkinen honors English her junior year. “Holly is such a fighter.”
“The people I work with are wonderful, giving people,” Vlajkovich said, adding they have donated raffle items and helped in many ways.
Donations for the sale, including clothing, sports equipment, books, DVDs, kitchen items, furniture, toys, games, appliances will be accepted until Sunday morning before the benefit. To donate, call Dr. Heikkinen at 330-881-6667 or Vlajkovich at 330-204-8106.
Also needed are volunteers to work at the event, baked goods for the bake sale and gift baskets to raffle. Money can also be donated to the Holly Heikkinen Benefit Fund at any Huntington Bank branch.
The NewsOutlet is a joint media venture by student and professional journalists and is a collaboration of Youngstown State University, WYSU radio and The Vindicator.