Two young women raise money for research of benign brain tumors

Riley Callen, 13, of Pawlet (left) with Sarah Shehadi, 23, of Dorset. Be Brave's hike-a-thon and "Basket Bonanza" raffle this Saturday at Merck Forest and Farmland Center in Rupert will raise funds for research of benign brain tumors, which can leave people with long-term neurological issues.

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RUPERT — When Riley Callen and Sarah Shehadi founded Be Brave Inc. this summer, they set out with a goal to raise $10,000 for research of benign brain tumors.

Callen, 13, of Pawlet, and Shehadi, 23, of Dorset, were inspired by their experience with their own brain tumors, and their organization planned a fundraiser for this Saturday. They've already beat their goal multiple times, having collected $70,000.

"I'm really excited," Callen said Tuesday. "I love how I have good friends who have helped us out and can't wait to see the turnout."

The organization's hike-a-thon and "Basket Bonanza" raffle begins at 8 a.m. at Merck Forest and Parkland in Rupert, with live music, food and drinks, and aims at raising money for research and awareness for benign (non-cancerous) brain tumors.

Callen was only 8 years old in 2011 when an MRI revealed she had a rare benign (non-cancerous) tumor in her brainstem. It took two craniotomies to remove it.

Shehadi, of Dorset, was 19 in 2009 and had suffered headaches for three months before an MRI found a tumor on her brainstem, an epidermoid cyst the size of a golf ball.

Both girls had second benign tumors removed in 2014 within six months of each other.

And both still deal with effects from the surgeries. Callen lost hearing in her left ear and the ability to move the left side of her face. She also underwent five reconstruction surgeries and has double vision.

Shehadi also has vision issues, following a stroke she suffered during her second craniotomy.

Riley's mother, Laura Callen, said that even though both girls have a 10-year age difference, they have an unbreakable bond.

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"They've just been so supportive of each other," Laura Callen, who serves as president of the nonprofit, said.

And coincidently, both girls are originally from Chatham, N.J., she said.

Saturday's hike begins at 8 a.m. and people can compete until 2 p.m. on any of more than 30 miles of trails. The registration fee is $25 for ages 25 and under, and $40 for adults.

The raffle begins at 8 a.m. and is open until 4:30 p.m. Each ticket is a chance to win one of more than 30 baskets worth over $7,500 in merchandise donated by local businesses and families.

Raffle tickets are being sold for $5 per ticket or $20 for five tickets. They are available the day of and in advance at the Dorset Union Store, HN Williams, the Northshire Bookstore, and Bob's Diner.

Funds raised from the events will be split evenly between Barrow Neurological Foundation in Phoenix, Arizona for neurosurgery tumor and hemangioma research and Boston Children's Hospital for research on pediatric brain tumor and vascular disease.

Laura Callen said her family, who moved to their home in Pawlet full-time 15 months ago, is thankful for the community's help.

Riley Callen said she is looking forward to raising awareness of the disease for people like her, and to raise money for research to someday find a cure.

"I know how hard it is especially before the first surgery and you don't know what's going to happen," she said. "It's good to know there are people there for you."

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979


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