Sean Rovers

Harry Funk/The Almanac

Sean Rovers wears the shirt that benefited Smiles From Sean last year.

These days, Sean Rovers looks like a typically healthy 11-year-old, sporting a head full of thick, curly hair and the beginnings of a mustache on his upper lip.

His appearance is a welcome sight for anyone who’s aware of his battle with an extremely rare form of cancer — especially his mother, Maria.

Smiley pillows

Smiley pillows from Sean

“A year later, after the last surgery, the MRI is still clear. He’s still in remission,” she said

Sean underwent two operations and subsequent radiation treatment for a myxoid mesenchymal tumor on the brain, a condition that had about 20 known cases at the time of his diagnosis in 2017.

Now, he’s nearing the finish of his fifth-grade year at Bethel Park’s Neil Armstrong Middle School. Along with his studies, he is continuing to help raise money for his Smiles From Sean project, which provides gift bags for patients at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

“I want to help children in the hospital,” he said, “because I know what it’s like to be there.”

In support of Smiles From Sean and of May as Brain Cancer Awareness Month, a benefit miniature golf tournament is scheduled for 6 p.m. May 17 at Cool Springs, 1520 Hamilton Road.

Organizing the event is Eileen Wallace, a Bethel Park School District nurse who has provided continuing support for the Rovers family.

“Recently, we were talking about how we could raise some funds to continue with the Smiles From Sean campaign, and I thought of the idea of doing the mini-golf because that’s one sport that Sean is still able to participate in,” she said.

Maria Rovers and her son launched Smiles From Sean a year after his diagnosis.

“I was thinking, what can I do to commemorate his bravery?” she said.

They decided to present gifts through the Children’s Hospital Child Life Department, which provides developmental, educational, social and emotional support. Patients receive backpacks with pillows and stress balls bearing smiley faces, plus a customized bookmark.

Sean was attending Memorial Elementary when he was diagnosed, and the school’s PTA has been helping him and his family since.

Sophia Antonucci, last year’s PTA president, led a fundraising “Go Gray in May” T-shit sale, also in support of Brain Cancer Awareness Month, with the shirts including the message “Sean Rovers: we fight together.” The current PTA president, Jen Tinney, continues the effort on his behalf.

“When Maria asked me if I would be interested in helping this year, I said, ‘definitely,’” she said.

Proceeds from admissions to the school’s May 3 Fun Fair are going to Smiles From Sean.

Tinney also is coordinating a district wide collection of quarters throughout May for the benefit of the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation, the hospital’s fundraising arm.

In the meantime, Sean can concentrate on miniature golf.

“We’re more focused on the positive side, and it helps him because it gives him something to do, something to think of, something to look forward to,” his mother said.

For more information, contact Eileen Wallace at 412-851-0597 or visit

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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