First grader’s cancer battle inspires national monument
Jacob Xavier Senediak was a smart, lively, athletic first grader at Howe Elementary School who loved baseball, hockey, his brother and his cats. Jacob died of a brain stem cancer called DIPG in January of 2020, after having endured extensive radiation as well as several experimental medical trials of new treatments, including innovative drugs and immunotherapy.
Now his family wants to honor the memory of Jacob and other children who have participated in studies that advance the treatment of pediatric cancer. “In many cases, agreeing to be in a study means further pain, discomfort, and a precious time commitment,” said Jacob’s father, Mark Senediak, of Sleepy Hollow Road. “These children are the front line in the war against cancer and fight their individual battles with a level of bravery that places them among the best of us.”
Last year the Senediak family, which includes Jacob’s mother, Stacey Chick, and brother, Zackery, now 10, launched a contest for Mt. Lebanon High School art students to honor these pediatric cancer patients with a design. The National Pediatric Cancer Monument will recognize all those children across the U.S. who fight this war against cancer and provide an innovative, interactive way to honor their sacrifice.
With the support of Fine Arts Department Chair Jennifer Rodriguez, 29 juniors, seniors and recent graduates submitted proposals. The 13-member design committee narrowed the field to 10 finalists before choosing the work of senior Julia Chung, Country Club Drive. She received a prize of $1,500, while the other finalists received smaller cash prizes.
Chung’s design includes an arched “rainbow bridge,” where children’s names would be recorded, leading to a pond flanked by oversized flowers and a misting element that creates rainbows in the air.
“I first had to comprehend the main purpose of the project, which was to bring awareness to childhood cancer and its victims,” she said. “After several drafts I realized that it needed to be more than one piece. I wanted the visitors to have a childlike experience—the kind of thing we take for granted but that childhood cancer can strip away.”
Chung, who plans to attend Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design in the fall, also wanted the project to be more than just a monument. “I wanted it to be a place to grieve and reflect, but also a place of peace and relief.”
“All of the proposals are so incredibly well thought-out and executed,” said Senediak. “It’s a testament to the school and Ms. Rodriguez and all these young people who went after this project with such intensity. It wasn’t just that they made these wonderful drawings, it was all the thinking behind trying to achieve what the monument’s about—a place of mourning, but also inspiration and celebration of these kids and the incredible bravery they show.”
Jacob’s family is not sure of the ultimate location of the project, although his dad said they’re considering both local and national sites.
The committee met in September to hear the students present their proposals via Zoom. Rodriguez had helped them tweak their work and prepare the presentations. “This was such a great opportunity for the students to solve a relevant, real-world problem that wasn’t just artistically and design-challenging, but a way to give back to the community,” said Rodriguez. “This little guy, Jacob, was a beloved member of our community, and this was a way for the students to use their talents to help a cause that should be important to everyone.”
Rodriguez has had Chung in class for four years. “I’ve enjoyed watching Julia grow and develop a really strong artist’s voice. Her dedication is clear.”
Senediak plans to raise money for the detailed site plans and engineering, then the subsequent phases of site acquisition, building, maintenance, and online database structure. His family has pledged to keep the young artists and their teacher involved as the project goes forward.
“I have to tell you that every kid I’ve taught has been changed for the better because of this project,” Rodriguez said. “Because of the Senediaks and the way they articulate their story and because everyone finds them so relatable as members of our community, I feel that they have the ability to enact awareness and change like no one else.”
Senediak hopes that the erection of the National Pediatric Cancer Monument will lead to the building of a database to help families deal with a battle like Jacob’s. “We want people to ask their legislators to support development of a cancer infrastructure. At some point in time, Not One More—that’s our statement.
“When people ask how I get through the day, I always say that I do it by carrying Jacob’s fight forward,” Senediak said. “It’s what defined his short life. When people come to the monument, I want them to feel both the loss and to feel inspired to continue the fight that honors Jacob and all these wonderful kids.”