Sometimes we are touched by things that change us forever. Sometimes they’re expected. Other times, they’re not. In the case of childhood cancer, it’s never expected… and it’s always life-changing.
The story I am going to share with you is one of how childhood cancer has touched my life, although it may be a little different than you’d expect. For me, the impact didn’t come through being a patient, or being related to or even extremely close to someone with cancer. Rather it came through watching my baby sister see her best friend, Melissa, battle cancer throughout their teenage years, then lose her battle at the young age of 18. Cancer doesn’t only affect the patient, their family, and their close friends. It reaches far beyond that, leaving a devastating trail of heartbreak. But there is something else that ripples far beyond the devastation. And that is hope. Because if I’ve learned anything from those affected by childhood cancer, it’s that hope has no limits.
My Introduction to the World of Childhood Cancer Advocacy
For the past 4 years, I have served on the planning committee for a local fundraising walk for CureSearch for Children’s Cancer. Their mission is “to end children’s cancer by driving targeted and innovative research with measurable results in an accelerated time frame.”
I had first learned about CureSearch in 2013 through my sister’s best friend, Melissa. She was 17 at the time, and was going to be speaking as a cancer survivor at their local walk event that year. I enjoy local running fundraisers, so I was eager to go to this event to both hear Melissa speak and participate for a good cause. I really didn’t have many expectations, but my experiences at fundraising events had me at least expecting a good size crowd and some chaos. This event turned out to be nothing like I expected.
A Different Kind of Event
My kids and I got up early that day, still somehow ended up running late, and I considered just staying home. But I felt the tug to go so we headed out on our way. When we arrived, I was strangely surprised by the crowd… or lack thereof. It was pretty small compared to other events I had been to. Unfortunately, we missed Melissa’s speech, but we made our way to the stage area as the children who were either battling cancer or had beat it were crossing the stage to receive a medal. The atmosphere was sobering, also unlike any other event I had been to. And that’s when I realized, this wasn’t like any other event that I had been to.
There was celebrating for the kids who had overcome cancer… sadness in remembering those who had lost their battles… support for those who were still fighting their battles… families and friends of these kids who had all been through so much. It was a lot to take in.
The walk path, which was about a mile or so, went along a pier over the water. The scenery was beautiful and lined with family-friendly fun. We saw Chewbacca, and I was able to get a picture of my kids being pushed in the stroller by a stormtrooper. But as we made our way along the walk path, Melissa decided to turn around and head back because she was not feeling well. I honestly don’t remember if I even knew that she was sick at the time. Any other time I had been around her, she was full of positivity and good spirits. She and my sister would laugh and act like teenagers, because they were teenagers.
The reality of her condition never really hit me until I saw her struggle that day. And it broke my heart. She was my baby sister’s best friend. They had so many years and so much life ahead of them, or at least that’s how it seemed it was supposed to be. Things aren’t always the way we expect them to be, though.
Pain Brings Change
“Stay close to the pain, because the pain changes you.” ~ Pastor Bill Wilson, Metro World Child
I love this quote because it holds so much truth. Pain changes you. It changes those who experience it and those who witness it. And how you let it change you is up to you.
It can bring about bitterness, or it can bring about hope. It can cause people to give up and walk away, or it can cause people to stand by each other and fight.
Seeing Melissa’s pain that day drove me to want to do something more than walk. The emails that I received from CureSearch after the event mentioned an opportunity to join the planning committee, so I reached out to get more information. To my surprise, you didn’t need to know anything about planning these types of events in order to serve on the planning committee. So the next year I served as the Public Relations Chairperson, and Melissa was so excited about my involvement that it drove my excitement. In my conversations with her I realized that she wasn’t only in a fight for herself, but for all the other kids out there battling cancer. She dreamed of becoming a pediatric oncologist one day, to help other kids in their battles against cancer. Her heart and her fight were bigger than her body. It was truly infectious.
An Unexpected Turn of Events
Melissa and I shared ideas and made plans for raising money and increasing awareness about the walk. The “Whipping Childhood Cancer” challenge started that year, so we decided to run with that idea. Someone would share a video of themself on social media smashing a whipped cream pie on their own face, then challenge others to do it and make a donation for children’s cancer research. She recorded her challenge video on September 9, 2014, just 11 days before the walk. Sadly she never made it to the walk that year though, as she passed away just a few days before the event.
Inspiration Comes in Small Packages
Melissa was an inspiration. She would light up a room when she walked in. She would joke about needing lice treatment inside a store after losing all of her hair. She held onto her faith until her last breath. She fought hard. I learned from a friend of hers that she was very timid about speaking in front of people before her diagnosis, but she overcame her fear in order to advocate for childhood cancer awareness.
So in the end, she did not lose her battle. She finished it. She is a victor, now resting from her work. Her torch has been passed on to those of us still here. And although she is no longer here and able to fulfill her dream of being a pediatric oncologist, her efforts will continue to help kids throughout the years in their battles through the ripple effect that her fight had on the lives of those she touched.
No Child Fights Alone
There is an abundance of ways to help these kids, and their families and friends, in their fight against cancer. You don’t need to join a committee or plan a big event. Regardless of your financial situation or physical capabilities, anyone and everyone can get involved. Here are just a few ways to help fight the good fight:
- Spread the word – Social media makes it SO easy to spread the word and raise awareness.
- Donate – I always say, EVERY dollar counts. You don’t have to make massive donations in order for them to make a difference. If 100 people give $1.00 each, it’s $100. When we all give a little, it truly does add up to a lot.
- Participate in an event – There are so many events put on by great organizations who support the fight against childhood cancer. Candy’s Circus Run takes place in August each year and is right here in our backyard at Nathan Benderson Park. Whether it’s a walk, a run, a gala, or something else, there is something for everyone.
- Volunteer – Events can always use more volunteers! It’s a fun way to get involved, meet others who are passionate about the cause, and build memories. And it doesn’t cost anything. So even if you’re not in the financial position to donate money or other resources, volunteering makes a tremendous impact.
- Join a committee – If you’d like to invest more time and participate in the planning process for an event, reach out to the organization or event coordinator. They may be able to use your help in ways you would truly enjoy.
Awareness and events drive funding. Funding drives research. Research drives treatments and cures. But it’s not just about the financial gains or event sizes. It’s also about showing these kids that someone cares, that they and their families are not alone in their fight. It’s about hope transcending pain, and love transcending loss. This life is fleeting, but what we do with it carries on. Please consider doing something for these kids. It only takes a little to make a big difference.