Friday, August 31, 2012

Please Read...

Today, President Obama declared September to be "National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month." Regardless of anyones' political affiliations, I strongly believe that this is a step in the right direction! Please, take a moment to read the legislation: HERE

My precious Aunt Joanne lost her battle to childhood cancer (leukemia) before I ever had the opportunity to meet her. (She was diagnosed as a teen/young adult, and bravely fought her battle with Leukemia for as long as she could.) She never had the chance to truly know the joys of the simple things in life so many take for granted: falling in love, getting married to a man that loved her, having children. Although my Aunt Joanne missed out on many things, she is always near and dear to our hearts, and her legacy lives on. I never was blessed with the opportunity to meet her (leukemia stole her away from my family much too soon), however, Aunt Joanne has blessed and touched my life by the legacy she left behind. Every time I hear a family member or a friend tell me about what an incredible young lady she was, I smile. She left an amazing legacy of positivity and hope behind for all of us to follow. Even in her darkest hour, Joanne embraced life to the fullest; she clung to her faith, and the motto of, "The Optimist Creed": Read it here. 

Despite the death sentence that was handed to her, she still lead a life with purpose, joy, and hope. She brought our family together, and still continues to do so. In my quest to put flowers on her grave several years ago, I was randomly reunited with family members that I had never met before. (That was such a special, incredible moment: to know that others had loved her so much and that she left such an impact on us know that we were all united in remembering her...breathtaking!) I truly believe in my heart that Joanne had a hand in orchestrating that moment! Through that experience, I learned many amazing stories about her life. Joanne brought so many people together...people who remember her for the incredible lady she was, not just for what the leukemia took away from her. My sister and I even received an email about a year ago from one of Joanne's close friends that told us all about their friendship and the great legacy she left upon his life. I read that email often and truly cherish the heartfelt words in it. It is so amazing to learn about what an incredible person she was and the positive impact she made in the lives of others. 

I often wonder what other incredible things she could have done had her life not been cut so short by childhood cancer.

My family takes comfort in knowing that through Joanne's legacy, she has touched so, so many lives. You see, Joanne was one of the very first patients treated at St. Jude for her condition. Because of Joanne, and other children like her, there are now longer survival rates, and cures for many cancers that were once considered a death sentence. (My dad was one of the first people there to offer his bone marrow in an attempt to help save Joanne's life. It's not just about the cancer, donors (bone marrow and other) play a very vital role in research and saving lives! Please consider signing up to be a donor!). I wish that there had been a cure for my Aunt Joanne back then. I wish that I would have had the opportunity to have such an incredible aunt in my life with me today. Unfortunately, that wasn't in the cards, as a cure did not come swiftly enough.  Through Joanne's incredible legacy however, I've been impacted in amazing ways, as have my other family members, friends, and children who are now living longer from the research St. Jude has done. Because of the legacy that Joanne and countless other children have left behind, they will never be forgotten; their lives will live on! Awareness is the first step in the journey to find a cure for childhood cancers...and all cancers for that matter! These children are our future. Their lives are important! Who do you think will find cures in the future, and care for you when you are older: the very children we should be working our hardest to help! Imagine a world without these precious children for a birthdays, no laughter, no celebration, no joy...a world of loss and devastation. Well, imagine what the life is like for the families who lose their little ones to cancer. 

We can spread awareness and support those who are trying to find a cure so that no family ever loses a child again from cancer. 
I still find it astounding, the number of people who can automatically tell you what the pink ribbon stands for, yet they do not have the slightest clue that gold represents all of the lives touched by childhood cancers. Awareness is the crucial first step. Although I wish this legislation would have been passed decades ago, before my aunt and others ever became ill, before countless lives were lost, I am relieved that today, a positive step was made to bring awareness on the impact childhood cancers inflict on countless lives. I am happy that today people put politics and personal agendas aside in order to do what is right, and what is noble for these precious children! I am PROUD! Joanne, would be proud too! :)

If you want to learn more about childhood cancers, or offer your support, there are numerous venues that you can visit. A few include: St. Jude , The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia , , Children's Cancer Research Fund. You can also show support by volunteering with organizations that help families who are coping with a childhood cancer diagnosis. Pet therapy teams that work with the group Ranger and I are affiliated with, regally visit with patients who are undergoing treatment and bring smiles to the families who are enduring so much. We are ALWAYS on the look out for wonderful new team members! If you think you have a pet that would make an incredible therapy animal, please send me a message. I would be happy to start you on the path towards becoming a registered therapy team through West TN Therapy Dogs. We need more incredible pets/handlers to share smiles, hugs, and joy, especially at places like St. Jude! (Even if your pet isn't a good fit for a place like St. Jude, there are countless other opportunities for a good therapy pet in our community to make a positive impact. I would love to talk to you and help you one your way!)

Other great organizations that need volunteers and donations include: The Ronald McDonald House, and the Target House both are also great organizations who provide shelter and needs for the families seeking treatment. Make-a-Wish is another great organization that tries to provide a bit of joy and hope for the families who are struggling to cope with a fatal diagnosis. Please do not feel like you are unable to help if you can't donate money! Time is one of the most important things you can give! Consider doing a fundraiser at your work or school to help fulfill a child's wish through "Make-a-Wish". Or, ask one of the housing programs what items they are in need of, and ask for canned goods/boxed items on your next birthday/wedding shower/Christmas party  etc, in lieu of presents. Those items can go a long way in helping to fully stock a kitchen at the Target or Ronald Mc Donald House for families who are living away from their homes while their children undergo treatment. There are so many things you can do to get involved and help! If you're a photographer, offer to take pictures for the families impacted, if you're a graphic artist: offer to design a poster free of charge for the next fundraiser, if you're a musician: sign up to volunteer in the hospital once a month to teach a little music class. There are runners clubs that raise money through races, golf tournaments that raise money through sport, there are cute clothing items/etc for those who like to shop. My point is that there are numerous ways to get involved! Try to find one you enjoy, and pitch in; you never know what kind of amazing impact you might have! 

I am going to end today's post with a picture of reality. It is a picture that absolutely breaks my heart. Below is a picture of what happens to children that are stricken with childhood cancers, when a cure is not found. If it upsets you, be thankful you still have tears to shed, emotions to feel, and a heart that's still beating. YOU are all able to do something about this: RAISE AWARENESS! Share your stories, make the decision to be the voice for those who no longer have one. Please do not speed through your September, through your holidays, through your upcoming year, and forget about this blog post. Please remember  that childhood cancer is inconvenient. Remember that on your most joyous occasions: your birthday, your wedding day, your holidays...all of your special many children will not get to experience your happiness and joy because there will not be a cure found quickly enough for them. Please do not go through life and forget about those who have lost so much from cancer. Remember them. Honor their legacies. Spread awareness.

This is what happens when a cure is not found in time. 
I know it's a difficult picture to look at, but I truly hope that it serves as a somber reminder of why it is so important to spread awareness and show support for childhood cancer research. My Aunt Joanne had her young life cut short because of Leukemia. No family should ever lose their precious loved ones from childhood cancer.

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