AVALON - Shannon Staino sat in shade with sand between her toes, watching 4-year-old son Brett run around with a shovel and bucket at the 30th Street beach Saturday morning.
Brett was acting like any other child his age. But there was a chance this day could not have happened because when Brett was 15 months old, he was diagnosed with a Stage III Wilms tumor, a type of pediatric cancer that affects the kidneys.
That first week in the hospital, the Staino family received a call from the Brendan Borek High Tides Memorial Fund. The organization's grocery gift cards, gift baskets and shoulder to lean on made the Stainos' road through cancer easier.
So on Saturday, Staino, her family and hundreds of others attended the Brendan Borek fund's 21st annual Surf Contest. At noon, the contest was put on hold for the Circle of Friends ceremony, during which nearly 50 surfers formed a circle in the water in remembrance.
"The reason I come back, I just feel like I have to give back in some way," said Shannon Staino, who is from the Swainton section of Middle Town-ship. "I know I will never be able to fully give back, but whatever I can do to help keep the fund going with their mission. I would love to see a cure one day so that no one goes through this, but until then I would love to see Brendan's Fund continue."
Staino stood atop a stage at the 30th Street beach, praising the fund and all it did for her family. Her speech was followed by a hearty "Thank You" from Brett, who has been in remission for almost three years.
For 21 years, the High Tides Memorial Fund has helped Cape May County families such as the Stainos, who have children or young adults with cancer. The battle with the sickness is only one aspect of the fight.
Lydia Borek, Brendan's mother, remembers when her then-16-year-old son fought Ewing's Sarcoma, a type of bone cancer. She had to quit her job to travel to and from hospitals, and the Boreks lost one of their sources of income. Paying bills became increasingly harder.
Lydia Borek didn't want other familes to have bills and grocery shopping weighing on their minds.
"Imagine one of the children in your family fighting cancer. That's where Lydia steps in," said Mike Meyer, 56, a volunteer who coordinated the surf competition. "(Brendan's) legacy, his spirit - it's a mindset. We help each other."
The surf event was born through a birthday party for Brendan Borek. His friends and family through a party for him on the beach because he loved the ride the waves and it was how he met most of friends.
"I saw him when he first started surfing," said Meyer, who lives in Lansdale, Pa., but has a house in Avalon. "He was paddling, and I was giving him grief. Really, I was just giving him tips."
Even though Brendan died shortly after his party, the family kept his memory going by holding a surf competition the same weekend every year. The celebration has turned into a weeklong event with dinners and golf outings in addition to the surf competition.
"Each year it's a little different," Lydia Borek said. "We see people here who were here when it started out and people who weren't even around yet. It's very exciting and very rewarding."
Many of Brendan's friends have their own children now who run around the beach in Avalon and even compete in the surf competition. Many of the nearly 200 competitors were not alive during Brendan Borek's life, but they understand the importance of the event.
Five friends - Bobby Murphy, 12; Nick Giunta, 13; Sammy Chatzinoff, 14; Patrick Stewart, 13; and Tighe Reed, 13 - stood in a circle talking about their heats. However, they also talked about Brendan Borek.
"It's a good time and for a good cause," Murphy said. "It makes it twice the fun."
The best part is watching people such as Brett Staino running around and splashing in the water. The High Tides Memorial Fund made it possible to get through the trying times to make these days worth it.
"Lydia has been an inspiration for me," Staino said. "To take such a tragedy and turn around and help so many other families. She didn't have that support back then. I think it's tremendous she wasn't going to let that happen to others."
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