MOUNT GREENWOOD — Orange and gray ribbons are appearing around Mount Greenwood on trees, sign posts and light poles — and for good reason.
Countless ribbons were hung last week for Anthony Pappalas, 5, of Mount Greenwood. The little boy with a contagious smile was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor on July 24.
Friends and neighbors quickly rallied around the child with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG. Calling themselves Anthony's Avengers, the group began with gray ribbons for brain cancer awareness and later paired them with orange ribbons — Anthony's favorite color.
Anthony's ribbons are often displayed beside the purple and green ribbons that were hung for the late Emily Beazley. The 12-year-old girl who lived just one block away from Anthony lost her four-year battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma on May 18.
"Our block and our family; this has brought everyone together," said Katie Gaskin, Anthony's mother.
A car wash was held on Aug. 8 to raise money for the family that also includes Anthony's brothers: Luke, 7, and Daniel, 3. And a larger fundraiser is in the works for early November, Gaskin said.
"The mask he needs to wear during radiation treatments, we call it his Iron Man mask," said Gaskin, who works as a special education teacher at Irene C. Hernandez Middle School in Gage Park.
Radiation and chemotherapy treatments started last week for Anthony. He'll receive these treatments five days a week through September as part of a clinical trial at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital in Streeterville.
"Of all the brain tumors that could have been there, this one is the worst," Gaskin said.
Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma is a rare and aggressive brain tumor that affects children between ages 5-7. Only 300 children are diagnosed each year with the condition in all of North America and Europe.
By some estimates, Anthony might only have two years left. His doctor has seen similar cases for more than two decades in the field, and he counts at least three long-term survivors of the disease, Gaskin said.
"We are praying he will be one of those," she said.
The tumor was detected as part of a routine eye exam ahead of Anthony enrolling in kindergarten at Mount Greenwood Elementary School. From there, the eye doctor recommended a specialist who made the diagnosis.
"His one eye started crossing when he would try to focus on something," said Gaskin, a Beverly native.
Katie Gaskin has four brothers, two of whom live within walking distance of her Mount Greenwood home. She graduated from St. Barnabas Elementary School in Beverly and Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School in Mount Greenwood.
She credited her strong support network for helping her during this difficult time. Besides family, several mothers she met as her children attended Barbara Vick Early Childhood and Family Center in Morgan Park have also stepped up to help.
Anyone interested in making donations to the family can visit a Crowdrise page set up for Anthony's Avengers. Money raised will help pay for travel to doctors appointments, medical bills that exceed what the insurance company will cover and costs associated with experiences Anthony would like to have during his fight.
Gaskin hopes that such efforts go beyond simply celebrating and supporting Anthony as he endures his treatments. She also wants to raise awareness about his disease , which she knew nothing about prior to her son's diagnosis.
"Mount Greenwood is an incredible place to live. I feel so much support," Gaskin said. "It makes things a little less terrible."
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