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Friends plan to honor Land O'Lakes student Noelle Park with hospital benefit

LAND O'LAKES — Noelle Park had brain cancer at age 9 and again at age 15. During both bouts, music was her comfort.

MTV kept her company during her semester home from school. Lyrics about loss and heartache reminded her that everyone suffers. An uplifting chorus gave her a boost during the darker days.

Now 16, Noelle says music is still a source of solace. It helps with the stresses of high school: choosing a college, AP classes and dating.

"It just gets me through the everyday stuff," said the Land O'Lakes High School junior, who is learning guitar. "It makes me feel better."

Paul Stonebridge, libraries teen services manager, met Noelle when she started volunteering at the Land O'Lakes Library in middle school.

Noelle writes the library's music blog and serves as its teen advisory board vice president.

Even through her second round of cancer at age 15, she remained as active a volunteer as her health would allow.

"It's a rare case when someone could have that kind of hardship and still give back so much," Stonebridge said.

Now, Pasco's Friends of the Library group wants to return the favor. In honor of Noelle, the organization is holding a fundraiser for All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. The money will go toward cancer research, Stonebridge said.

If the library can raise $500 by March 19, Noelle gets to shave the heads of two library staff members on stage at the library's annual Rockus Maximus Battle of the Bands competition March 26 at Crews Lake Park in Shady Hills.

"She's one of the most committed volunteers we have. We want to give back," Stonebridge said.

When Noelle was 9, she complained of massive headaches. Doctors found a walnut-size tumor in her brain.

It was removed three days after she turned 10.

"My parents were so shocked. I was shocked, too, but I wasn't that freaked out by it," she said. "I was like 'I'll be fine.' "

Noelle, who lives in New Tampa, talks easily about her experience. She jokes that the tumor was purple, her favorite color.

She was clear for five years, and then the cancer showed up again in a routine MRI.

Noelle missed a semester of school while she recovered from the second surgery. When she returned to the library, she proudly showed off her scars to the staff.

"She's real upbeat, that helps her a lot," Stonebridge said.

"I just have to look at the positive side, otherwise I'd be horribly sad. I don't want to be horribly sad," Noelle said.

But the experience has changed her. She's more serious now, more aware of mortality. She gets angry when she hears of kids her age drinking and driving or doing drugs.

She also found her path. After discovering rock music during her first recovery, Noelle wants to study singing and songwriting after high school.

Her goal is to one day own a record company. Among her favorite bands are Motion City Soundtrack, Yellowcard and My Chemical Romance.

During both surgeries, doctors were able to leave Noelle's hair intact. But she thinks it's cool that the library staff will have their heads shaved to show solidarity with those who aren't as fortunate.

It's even cooler that she gets to wield the razor.

"I get to shave a librarian's head if they raise enough money; that's going to be fun," she said.

One of her victims that evening will be James Francosky, 22, youth services provider at the Hudson Branch Library.

Last year, Francosky's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Doctors caught it early and she is fully recovered, he said.

But the experience gave him a small insight into Noelle's world.

He's willing to give up his few inches of brown, bushy hair for Noelle, his mom and others battling cancer.

"I'm all for it. Even if we don't get to the $500, I'll still lose my hair," he said.

fast facts

To donate

To donate to the fundraiser for All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, call (727) 861-3020.

This year's Battle of the Bands will be from 6 to 11 p.m. March 26 at Crews Lake Park, 16739 Crews Lake Drive in Shady Hills. Admission is free, but you need a library card to get in.

Friends plan to honor Land O'Lakes student Noelle Park with hospital benefit 03/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 2, 2010 9:14pm]
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