The rain may have caused the colors to run on some of the hand-designed banners on the playground, but the wet weather didn’t dampen the spirits at St. Philip the Apostle School as faculty, staff, parents and students laced up their walking shoes in support of Michael Gates, a first grader battling brain cancer. More than 500 registered walkers recently hit the hallways and stairs of the Pasadena school, cheered on by enthusiastic staff and the red falcon school mascot and musical entertainment. The Walk-A-Thon for young Michael was intended to be held outdoors on the blacktop but the early morning downpour moved all the festivities indoors. The venue change, though, didn’t stop the revelry.“Whoo-hoo! Let’s go!” shouted students as they started their walk down halls and past classrooms they see every day. The decorations, live music and atmosphere put the gear into pure party mode.Early in the day, walkers were treated to marching band recordings of Michael’s favorite team, the USC Trojans. Indeed, the slogan of “Fight On” has become an adopted motto of the school-wide support for Michael and his family.“We are very blessed to have the love and support of the St. Philip community behind us,” says father Steve, a music theory instructor at nearby Pasadena City College who has also directed the school choir. Mom Colleen is a graphic designer. “We are very grateful for all the prayers because this is going to be a very hard time for our family.”In 2007, Michael was discovered with a brain tumor when he was only 10 months old. “We went to the doctor because Michael kept tilting his head to the side and it seemed odd,” says Steve. “That’s when they discovered it.”The tumor was removed and Michael received chemotherapy — he was deemed too young to receive radiation treatments — but his recovery was very difficult and slow.In the process, Michael lost hearing in his left ear, sight in his left eye and experienced paralysis on his left side (he has since regained much of those faculties). He also received a bone marrow transplant to counter all the chemotherapy that was being injected into his small body. It was more than a year before the family felt back on a somewhat normal schedule.For years, Michael was cancer-free. Only a few months ago, he received a notification congratulating him on his new status as a survivor. However, on a routine follow-up visit last month to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, the doctors discovered the devastating news: the cancer had regrown. Smaller than before, but yes, it had come back.Michael is currently on a program of chemotherapy and radiation, commuting daily to the west side. His prognosis is unclear. While most of Michael’s medical costs are covered by insurance, the family is prepared to readjust their finances. Through the course of Michael’s current treatment, more than likely he will require one-on-one care which means a loss of income for the family — which is why they received all funds raised from the Walk-A-Thon.On Walk-A-Thon Day, Michael and his family — mom, dad, younger sister April, grandparents, aunts and uncles — kept the mood upbeat as they strolled the halls, counted their laps, and greeted friends and classmates. Young Michael even got a chance to meet the 2013 Rose Queen and her Royal Court (Princess Tracy Cresta is an alumna of St. Philip.)“I’m overwhelmed by what Michael’s school is doing for him and our family,” said grandmother Margaret Hayes who came from San Diego to join the walk. “It makes me want to cry. My prayer is that all of this doesn’t exhaust Michael too much.”Those who know Michael understand his determination to keep on doing. “Michael is a typical Cub Scout, always wanting to be with his pack,” said Larry Mangubat, den leader for Pack 131. On Walk-A-Thon Day, the Cub Scouts donated donuts, coffee and juice for the walkers. Mangubat tells the story of how surprised and happy all the Cub Scouts were to see Michael at a recent sleepover at the Natural History Museum. “Earlier in the week he had been in the hospital, so we didn’t think he’d make it for the sleepover,” he said. “But he did and everyone had a great time.” After a moment of reflection, Mangubat sighs. “You know what gets to me most? Seeing how his family takes care of him. Watching Michael’s dad pick him up and carry him when he gets tired. That kind of dedication touches me as a father.”Indeed, the inspiration of watching a family come together — in good days and bad days — is a lesson in living, an experience that will shape not only the young students, but teachers and staff.“We embrace opportunities like these that allow us to be God’s hands,” said principal Jennifer Ramirez. “This is a community that often steps in to help, most often with food for families and lots of prayer but sometimes with offers of carpooling, babysitting or other service. In this case the teachers and staff felt a desire to do something and out of that came the walk-a-thon.” Fifth grade teacher Kristen Yanish, who helped organize the event, concurs. “This is so good for the kids to see how we can come together,” she observed. “We wanted to do something for Michael and the ideas kept snowballing bigger. We know we wanted an event that would bring us together as a faith community united in prayer.”Since the beginning of the school year and the news of Michael’s cancer, the school has rallied around Michael. Varsity volleyball teams have worn blue ribbons in their hair in support of Michael; parents have organized weekly prayer times; Michael’s fellow first graders sent cards to him; and the entire student body recently created a “prayer chain” and stretched it around the entire school. Throughout Walk-A-Thon Day, different grades took turns ambling through the school, and afterward enjoyed lunch from the Pie N Burger food truck. Parents, families and kids mingled in the outdoor courtyard as the rain momentarily subsided; blue skies peaked out behind the threatening clouds off the horizon. While the mood had certainly been a party inside the school, parents now reflected on the harsh reality of what brought them all together. “It’s bittersweet,” said Jan Adduci. “None of us really knows what’s in store for us, for our families. It’s not just the Gates family … it’s all of us.”“It was such a touching display of affection and love, I found myself tearing up at different times,” said Kimberly Miera. “Seeing all the teachers and staff in the ‘Fight On Michael’ shirts was amazing. I felt overwhelmed. I still do.”All agreed that despite whatever the future brings to the Gates, the community at St. Philip will be there telling them to “Fight On!”“When we first heard about this, we all felt helpless,” explained Jennifer Richard. “Often the only thing that we can do in situations like this is show our support and keep on in our faith. That’s where our strength is, that’s where we find each other. That makes us who we are.”{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/1130/sgphilip/{/gallery}