Share this article

print logo

Friends and family rally around a cheerleader; Orchard Park student with cancer hasn't lost her smile

Kaely Kwitek has a dazzling smile that lights up the world around her.

She has a bubbling, outgoing personality that captivates everybody she meets.

She has the infectious enthusiasm of a cheerleader's cheerleader.

"She is such a positive, encouraging person. She really stands out," said her cheerleading coach at Orchard Park High School. "She has no enemies. Everybody on the cheerleading team loves her."

Kaely, at age 16, also has stage 4 anaplastic large cell lymphoma -- cancer.

She has been hospitalized five times since Super Bowl Sunday. Doctors removed her appendix and gallbladder. She has no hair.

She faces 15 more months of chemotherapy.

Undaunted, Kaely went back to school last week for the first time in about four months.

"I'm going to pass with my class and be a senior next year," she said.

Meanwhile, her family faces staggering medical bills. To help, about 1,000 of her friends, neighbors and their families turned out Sunday for a fundraiser in her behalf.

The gathering resembled a gigantic tailgate party with music, dancing, videos, picnic food, raffles and plenty to drink on a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon.

The parking lot at the Chicken Coop -- VFW Post 8113 on Leydecker Road in West Seneca -- overflowed with cars belonging to people who came out to cheer for their never-give-up cheerleader.

Everybody had a hug and a kiss for Kaely.

She was resplendent in her white dress, denim jacket and tiny earrings.

It didn't matter that the chemotherapy has robbed her of her hair, leaving her with only some very short "peach fuzz."

She was given a wig to cover her baldness, but she never wore it. "She doesn't wear anything to cover her head," relatives said.

Lauren Bonilla, assistant coach of varsity cheerleading at Orchard Park and a principal organizer of Sunday's fundraiser, said Kaely "always has been extremely responsible and mature. She is a really good cheerleader. She is the 'go-to' person on our team. Her whole 25-member team is working here today. And I'm her coach here today."

Kaely really didn't need any coaching Sunday. She performed flawlessly as the guest of honor, though she didn't demonstrate any of her cheerleading routines. It's a little too early in her treatment for that.

Bonilla is used to helping people out in their time of need. She is the fundraising coordinator for the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Western New York.

Among others who helped to put Sunday's party together are Linda Ulrich, Kathy Tabor and Maria Keller, all of them mothers of cheerleaders on Kaely's team. The team members stood out in green T-shirts marked "Team Kaely," with the "l" shaped like the ribbon symbol of hope.

Kaely was on the junior varsity cheerleading team in her freshman and sophomore years in high school and was last year's team captain. This year, she's on the varsity team, and she expects to be back in the lineup next season for her senior year.

She also has been a volunteer cheerleading coach for the Orchard Park Little Loop football league.

"We've been best friends since eighth grade," said Amber Kramer, one of her fellow cheerleaders. "We've always hung out together. I went to see her in the hospital. And I just got my driver's license, so now I can drive to see her anytime."

Amber, a 16-year-old junior, said she visits Kaely "almost every day at her house. We go to lacrosse games together and we go out to eat. Kaely has been good through all of this. She is super strong."

Another cheerleader, Emma Ulrich, said Kaely "always is so happy, so positive, and so eager to get back into school." Emma, a 15-year-old sophomore, was selling bracelets, tickets and butterflies at Sunday's fundraiser. "People are still helping out," she said.

Emma has been a frequent visitor at Kaely's house during her illness, often helping to fix her dinner.

Kaely knew in January that something was terribly wrong with her health, and she had surgery in Women & Children's Hospital. On Feb. 10, doctors delivered the difficult diagnosis: cancer of the lymph nodes in her stomach.

She now receives chemotherapy three times a week at Roswell Park Cancer Institute and has been receiving home schooling between treatments.

She finally went back to school last week, and she will be there again this week.

Among her biggest supporters are her mother, Maggie Dreyer, and stepfather, Dan Dreyer.

Her mother is a vice president of G.A. Family Service, a foster-care adoption agency, and her stepfather is a retired drill instructor at a state prison shock camp. They live in Orchard Park, near Ralph Wilson Stadium, with their four other children, Joseph Kwitek, Francis DiCesare, and Kiara and Aryana Dreyer.

Her stepfather said Kaely's medical costs are expected to exceed $320,000. Insurance will pay a large part of that, but the family still will owe thousands of dollars. "Today is basically a day of friends coming together to help," he said.

There was no immediate accounting for how much was raised at Sunday's benefit, but the organizers said they were hoping for about $30,000 to $35,000.