Makayla Baker gives Skyler Castro a hug May 10 during a stopoff in Warrensburg on the way home from Albany Medical Center, where Skyler was undergoing initial treatment for malignant bone cancer. Baker was one of the residents of Warrensburg and Thurman who gathered in front of Richards Library to welcome Skyler home. A third grader at Warrensburg Elementary, Skyler has not only received an outpouring of local support and encouragement, but she’s received greetings from all over the world. Photo by Jill Galusha
Shannon Castro gripped her kitchen counter May 17 to brace herself as she talked about her nine-year-old daughter Skyler’s battle with life-threatening bone cancer — and the outpouring of support the Castro family is now experiencing from area residents and across the nation.
“It’s been awesome how people from local communities and from all over have responded — and what they’ve done for us,” she said, as tears filled her eyes.
Skyler winced from pain as she slowly sat upright on the couch nearby.
“You’re crying ....... Don’t cry, Mom,” she said softly.
Skyler Castro was diagnosed two weeks earlier with Ewing’s Sarcoma, an invasive, malignant bone cancer. For several weeks, the child — known as the “mother hen” of her third grade class — has undergone dozens of tests, procedures, and chemotherapy; and she’s endured it with courage.
For a few months prior to her diagnosis, Skyler had experienced pain in her leg that got progressively worse. When she couldn’t walk, she was taken to an orthopedic surgeon, then to Glens Falls Hospital. An MRI procedure was conducted, and Shannon and Ed Castro — Skyler’s father — were told a tumor had grown into her spine.
Skyler was referred to Albany Medical Center, where a biopsy was performed. The diagnosis was determined and the doctors began therapeutic treatments immediately. Shannon never left the hospital. Ed spent most all the next week there, too, but he stayed most nights at the Ronald McDonald House. Bonnie Cameron, Skyler’s grandmother was at the hospital every day and night, and Ed’s brother Scott Castro was there often as well.
Schoolmates, WCS staffers show support
Meanwhile, both Warrensburg High School and Warrensburg Elementary rallied. They held ”Skyler Strong Day” May 9 — when students, faculty and staff all wore yellow shirts to show Skyler their support. Much of the clothing was emblazened with “Skyler Strong,” a slogan later to go viral on the Internet. Each of the schools had a group photograph taken and sent to Skyler while in the hospital, Ed Castro said.
“When she saw the photos, her eyes lit up — words couldn’t express what she felt,” Ed Castro said. “Warrensburg Central is just awesome.”
At Albany Medical Center, female employees all pitched in a bought her three bags of clothing from Justice, Skyler’s favorite clothing store.
Josh Cameron of Queensbury, Ed Castro’s brother, was among the relatives and friends visiting at Albany Medical Center. While talking with others in the hospital cafeteria, he heard about the website GoFundMe.com, so he launched a webpage that accepted donations to go towards Skyler’s medical costs and related family expenses. Within a week, people from all over had donated $10,000, Cameron said.
“It was pretty awesome,” he said.
Simultaneously, Skyler’s story and the “Skyler Strong” slogan went viral through Facebook. She received messages from many states: from Key West, Fla. to Alaska to Hawaii, as well as from overseas. Most all the well-wishers from afar were strangers, sending photos of themselves bearing the message “Skyler Strong,” either penned on a poster, scrawled in the sand, or emblazoned on their clothing. One photo greeting featured toddler twins holding the message on posters as they sat in miniature race cars. Several people sent snapshots of their pets posing with the slogan. Skyler even got such messages from Disney World characters: Mickey Mouse and Goofy as well as Aurora and another princess from Disney movie fame.
As of May 17, Skyler received messages of support from South Africa, Germany, the United Kingdom and the Cayman Islands.
“People from all over the world have responded,” Ed Castro said this week.
Crowd welcomes Skyler home
On Skyler’s initial trip back home May 10 from the hospital — her first return since her diagnosis — a police patrol car intercepted them and provided an escort down Warrensburg’s streets. Moments later, the motorcade encountered a crowd: Skyler was greeted by dozens of local people — Burghers and Thurmanites — who stood on Richards Library lawn, dressed in yellow “Skyler Strong” T-shirts and bearing yellow and black balloons, cheering her return.
Several in the crowd walked behind her vehicle, catching up to it as it pulled into the Warrensburg Recreation Field parking lot for a stop-off on the family’s trip home to Thurman. There, she was helped out of the car into a wheelchair, where she received well-wishers, hugs, gifts, and greetings.
Skyler smiled May 17 as she recalled the community welcome-home reception.
“It was so cool — kind of overwhelming,” Skyler said.
Ed Castro said the surprise gesture, publicized by local deejay Lee Pecue, was spirit-lifting.
“It was amazing,” Ed Castro said. “I’m ‘in the clouds’ over the community support.”
“Everybody’s been phenomenal,” he continued. “We can’t thank everybody enough for what they’ve done.”
When the Castro family arrived at their home on South Johnsburg Road, they found that Adam Griswold, Jeremy Dingman and Craig House had constructed a 10-feet by 10-feet concrete front patio for them. Northwoods Concrete had donated the concrete.
That’s not all.
The Castros discovered that Kevin Gillingham and Rick Ovitt had purchased a new front-load dryer for the Castro family, because their old one needed replacement — and a new platform was built under their washer and dryer. They also discovered that Linda Griswold had cleaned up the Castro house with the help of her daughter Makayla, Ginger Wallace and Bonnie Cameron.
“We knew we had friends and family. but you don’t know how deep it goes until something like this happens,” Ed Castro said.
A benefit party held at George Henry’s in Warrensburg May 16 raised $4,000 towards the Castro’s mounting expenses. The next day, more cash was raised at a benefit concession set up outside the Thurman Town Hall, where food and baked goods were sold. Grilling up food, dispensing Skyler Strong wristbands and accepting donations, were Larry and Janelle Bacon, Bud and Jules Russell, Heidi Aldrich, Amanda and Brody Morse and Makayla Griswold, among others.
Jules, a teenaged student at Warrensburg High School, is organizing a “Shake It For Skyler” benefit dance at the school, to be held in several weeks.
Grilling up burgers, Bud Russell offered his thoughts.
“This kind of spirit is the reason why people live in small country towns,” he said.
Back at her home, Shannon Castro echoed the sentiment.
“There are so many people that are doing so much for us — I can’t thank them all,” she said. “The local communities getting together and doing what they’ve done is amazing.”
Ed Castro also expressed appreciation to his employer Asplundh Tree Experts, as well as the staff of Dr. Stephen Serlin’s medical office, where Shannon works. Both have generously allowed them to take time off from work to meet Skyler’s needs, he said.
Skyler is scheduled to undergo more chemotherapy this week, and return home again Sunday May 25. She faces months more of chemotherapy and perhaps radiation procedures.
Scott Castro said Skyler has been taking all the medical procedures in stride.
“She's the strongest kid to be going through all this and still laughing and smiling all the time,” he said. “Her spirit is unstoppable.”
Castro added that his niece was up to any challenge. “She’s a fighter, that’s for sure,” he said as tears welled up in his eyes. “Skyler will never give up.”
Observing that his daughter is courageous about whatever lies ahead, Ed Castro said he and Shannon are forever thankful about the support they’ve experienced.
“I didn’t realize how a community could come together like this,” he said. “It’s amazing.”
'Skyler Strong’ fundraisers slated
Benefit events planned on behalf of Skyler Castro:
• Monday May 26 — Memorial Day Home Run Derby Contest, noon at Warrensburg Recreation Field, Library Avenue. $10 per player, plus $1 per additional out. Prizes in all divisions: minors, majors, girls softball & modified sports, plus adult softball. Registration at 11 a.m. All players welcome. Details: contact Garrett Combs at 480-8830 or: firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Saturday May 31 — Benefit car wash and vehicle service, 9 a.m.- 1 p.m. at Warrensburg Car Care, 3985 Main St. in Warrensburg. All proceeds go to Skyler’s family. Details: call Amanda at 623-2135.
• Saturday June 7 — Benefit Cut-a-Thon at Heidi’s Clip Joint, lower Main St. in Warrensburg. Accompanying bake sale at the salon sponsored by Skyler’s 3rd grade class at WCS Elementary. To donate baked goods, call 623-2818.
• Sunday June 8 — Gymkhana fundraiser, 10 a.m., Circle B Ranch, Potter Brook Rd., Chester. Various events, jackpot barrel race follows. Details: call Heidi at 955-8303.
• Saturday June 14 — Benefit Car Show, Boar’s Nest tavern, 1263 Patten Mills Road, Fort Ann. Details: call Josh Cameron at 260-1885.
• Sunday June 15 — ‘Skyler Strong’ Family Benefit Day at recreation field behind Thurman Town Hall, Athol. Family fun including games, auction, silent auction, 50/50 raffles, pig roast and chicken barbecue, bounce house, raffles, dunking booth, horseshoe games, music.
• Friday June 20- Benefit bluegrass & country music concert, 6:30 p.m.- 9:30 p.m. at Warren County Fairgrounds, Schroon River Rd. in Warrensburg. Featuring Hoddy Ovitt, Jimmy Davis & Friends. Details: 623-3278.
NOTE: Also, people are welcome to send donations directly to the Skyler Castro Fund at Glens Falls National Bank, Warrensburg Branch.