On Sept. 1, Milwaukeeans will go “over the edge” in the battle against childhood cancer.
That’s the day that the MACC Fund helps kick off Childhood Cancer Awareness Month by hosting the Over the Edge rappelling event at the Wintrust Commercial Bank at 731 N. Jackson St.
According to the MACC Fund, Over the Edge fundraisers for nonprofits have raised more than $100 million since 2008.
Participants will raise funds by rappelling 147 feet down the side of the 10-story building. Each has agreed to raise at least $1,500 (with a goal of $3,000) for the MACC Fund in order to make the descent.
One of those rappellers is 20-year-old Hollyn Peterson.
At age 5, Peterson – a Waukesha West graduate current studying for her BFA-Fine Arts with an eye toward becoming a teacher – was diagnosed with Wilms tumor, a form of kidney cancer that often affects children under 10.
She relapsed twice, at age 7 and again at 8, and underwent kidney transplant surgery.
“I have several long-term side effects from battling childhood cancer that often affects my life every day, however, I try not to dwell on them,” says Peterson, who carries a 4.0 GPA at UW-Whitewater and is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.
“I am participating in Over the Edge in honor of my friends who are also survivors, my friends who are angels and the friends I haven’t met yet. I spread awareness and raise money for better treatments that will hopefully lead to a cure for cancer that also eliminates any long-term side effects.
“No child should have to face what I did. No child should miss their childhood growing up in a hospital bed which is why I am an advocate for childhood cancer.”
The road to her successes today was a long and arduous one, Peterson recalls.
“Childhood cancer because it affected my family, education, friendships, interests and confidence,” she says. “It wasn’t just my life that was affected but my four siblings and parents. Our family was split in two, my mom or dad was with me while the other was at home with my siblings. Together we pushed through many struggles, making us closer and stronger now.”
Peterson missed more than 650 days of school, which meant she struggled with basics like reading, and those absences, plus her hospital stays, made it difficult to maintain friendships.
“I missed out on a lot of fun field trips, sleepovers and birthday parties,” she says. “I loved Tae Kwon Do, swimming and soccer but the treatment made it hard to go.”
When doctors told her at age 5 that she might not be able to run, she fought back and earned her black belt, became a varsity cheerleader and did hip-hop dancing.
“I lost confidence when I lost my hair,” Peterson says. “It took me a while to learn to love my bald head and that it was a sign of strength. My goal now is to help cancer patients see their beauty in baldness and their scars.”
When, at age 9, doctors suggested she study ballet as a means of building strength and stamina, she met dance instructor Kate Moody at Liberty Dance Center in Waukesha.
“We met with Miss Kate to see if I could join her studio and she was more than happy to have me,” says Peterson. “Miss Kate was so passionate about dancing that her excitement was contagious. She was very encouraging, which is exactly what I needed. Liberty Dance Center is more than just a dance studio, it is a family that welcomed me in. I found love in hip-hop (dancing).”
Dancing at Liberty with Moody not only provided the physical activity she needed, it boosted her confidence, too.
So when Peterson decided to make her way down a 10-story building to show her support for the fight against childhood cancer, she sent Miss Kate – who is afraid of heights – an email, asking her to rappel, too.
“You have so much love, kindness and strength,” Peterson wrote. “Dancing at your studio taught me that I can do anything if there is love and passion behind it. I am so proud of you for even considering facing your fear for this cause! That just proves how brave you really are.
“If you choose not to do this, that is okay! This would be a very BIG yes for a very BIG building. You have a heart of gold and ... maybe you could come to watch me then? Miss Kate, you can do anything you set your mind to.”
The request came just as one of Moody’s dance teachers received a Leukemia diagnosis for her 2-year-old son.
“Childhood cancer has been top of mind lately,” says Moody. “Then Hollyn sent me the most beautiful, inspiring and encouraging email. There was no way I say no.”
“I am completely afraid of heights! I rockclimbed on a cruise ship with my two young sons in 2019 and could barely get down without freaking out.
“That said, I love doing things that scare me, as I feel that is when you truly grow. So I just bought a rock climbing pass and my boys are going to teach me to ‘trust the rope’.”
And instantly clear is the kind of spirit that inspires Peterson.
So, the two aim to go rappel down the building at the same time, further cementing their bond of mutual respect and admiration.
“After all that she has been through, she always has a positive outlook on life,” says Moody of her former student. “I don't think I have ever seen her not smiling and positive. I'm sure she has her days, as we all do, but she just has a great presence about her.”
While Miss Kate has been a rock for Hollyn Peterson all these years, for the minutes that they’ll be trusting the ropes together, it will be Peterson’s turn to be her mentor’s solid rock, even if she’s a little, ahem, edgy about it herself.
“I have never rappelled down a building before but I love to challenge myself and try new things,” says Peterson. “I was intimidated by starting dancing and college but I said yes to those challenges and I am so thankful I did. I do love rollercoasters so I am hoping the height won’t be as scary as it sounds, even if it is, I know that I am doing this for the kids!
“Miss Kate has a fear of heights, so this really shows the love and compassion she has.”
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.